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Oltj /IclHi 

Translated Jr om the Persian and edited by 

English version in collaboration with 
E. Mattin G. Hill 



Bruno Cassirer (Publishers) Ltd 

Distributed by 
Faber and Faber 

24 Russell Square ? London WCi 

Printed in England by 
Spottiswoode, Ballantyne & Co, Colchester 

Illustrations by 
Conzett and Huber, Zurich 



chapter P a g e 

I How the Story began 1 3 

II Qays and Layla meet 1 6 

III The Lovers are separated 20 

IV Qays becomes Majnun 24 

V Majnun sees Layla from afar 28 

VI Majnun’ s Father asks for Layla’s 

Hand 3 0 

VII Majnun’ s Lament and Despair 3 5 

VIII Pilgrimage to Mecca 41 

IX Majnun lost in the Wilderness 46 

X The Sayyid admonishes his Son 50 

XI Majnun’s Answer. The Partridge 

and the Ant 5 3 

XII Majnun returns but escapes again 55 

XIII Layla waits 57 

XIV Layla in the Garden 6 1 

XV Ibn Salam asks for Layla’s hand 65 

XVI Majnun finds a new Friend 67 

XVII Majnun reproaches Nawfal 74 

XVIII War against Layla’s Tribe 76 

XIX Nawfal is reproached again 83 


chapter P a 8 e 

XX Nawfal’s Victory 8$ 

XXI End of a Friendship 90 

XXII Majnun frees the Gazelles 92 

XXIII Majnun rescues the Stag 9 5 

XXIV Majnun and the Raven 98 

XXV Majnun and the Beggarwoman 101 

XXVI Layla is given to Ibn Salam 106 

XXVII Ibn Salam and Layla m 

XXVIII Majnun hears of Layla’s Marriage 1 14 

XXIX Majnun mourns Layla 1 1 8 

XXX The Father visits his Son 120 

XXXI Majnun’ s Answer 12$ 

XXXII The Father departs 127 

XXXIII Majnun hears of his Father’s Death 129 

XXXIV Face and Veil 132 

XXXV Majnun and the Wild Beasts 134 

XXXVI The Youth and the Lion-Hounds 1 39 

XXXVII Majnun prays to the Stars 144 

XXXVIII Majnun prays to the Almighty 147 

XXXIX A Messenger from Layla 1 50 

XL Layla’s Letter i£8 

XLI Majnun’ s Reply 164 

XLII Salim visits Majnun 1 69 

XLIII Majnun meets his Mother 17 S 

XLIV Majnun hears of his Mother’s 

Death 179 


chapter page 

XLV Layla and Majnun meet 182 

XLVI Majnun recites his poems to Layla 1 8 8 

XLVII The Youth from Baghdad 190 

XL VIII Majnun replies 193 

XLIX Layla’s Husband dies 197 

L Layla’s Death 202 

LI Majnun mourns Layla log 

LII Majnun’ s End 210 

LIII People hear of Majnun’ s Death 2 1 2 

Postscript 2 1 £ 





i . First page of a Manuscript in the Biblio- 
theque Nationale, with the Caption 

2. Layla and Qays at School 19 

3 . Majnun before the Holy Caaba in Mecca 43 

4. The Battle between Nawfal’s men and 

Layla’s Tribe 79 

g. Majnun in Chains led to Layla’s Tent 

by the Beggarwoman 103 

6 . Majnun and the Wild Beasts 137 

7 . Salim visits Majnun in the Desert 1 7 1 

8. The Youth from Baghdad visits Majnun 

among his Animals 1 9 1 

9. Mourning for Layla’s Husband 201 

10. Layla is carried to her Grave. Majnun 

walks in front of the Coffin 207 

1 1 . Majnun laments at Layla’s Grave 209 

1 1 


12. Riding from Jerusalem through the 
seven Spheres of the Planets on his 
Horse Boraq, the Prophet Mohammed 
ascends to Heaven (Illustration to one 
of the Prefaces to the Book of Layla and 
Majnun) . 213 


Plates 1, 3 , 5 , 6, 8 , 12 Bibliothbque Nationale , Paris, 

Manuscrit Supplement Person 


Plates 2, 4, 7 , 9 London: British Museum 

Plate IO Stiftung, Preussischer Kulturb- 

esitz Depot der Staatsbibliothek, 
Tubingen, Ms. or.fol, l8j 

Plate 1 1 Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian t 




O NCE there lived among the 
Bedouin in Arabia a great lord, 
a Sayyid, who ruled over the 
Banu Amir. No other country flourished like his 
and Zephyr carried the sweet scent of his glory to 
the farthest horizons. Success and merit made him 
a Sultan of the Arabs and his wealth equalled that 
of Korah. 

He had a kind heart for the poor and for them his 
purse was always open. To strangers he was a 
generous host and in all his enterprises he suc- 
ceeded as if good luck were part of him, as the 
stone is part of the fruit — or so it appeared to be. 

Yet, though respected like a caliph, to himself 
he seemed like a candle, slowly consuming itself 
without ever spreading quite enough light. The 
heart of this great man was eaten by one secret 
sorrow; he, who otherwise possessed everything 
he desired, had no son. 

He had remained childless. What did glory, 
power and wealth mean to him, if one day they 
would slip from his hands, without an heir to 
receive them ? Was the com fated to wither, did the 


branch have to die? If the cypress tree fell, where j 

would the pheasant build his nest? Where would he 
find happiness ? Where shade and refuge ? 

He only is truly alive, who in his son’s memory j 

survives his own death. 

Thus the noble man brooded and, the older he 
grew, the greater became his desire. Yet for many 
years his alms and prayers were in vain. The full 
moon which he so eagerly awaited never rose in his 
sky and the jasmin seed which he sowed would not 
germinate. j 

Still the Sayyid was not content to bow to his j 

fate. For the sake of one wish yet unfulfilled he 
thought but little of everything else that heaven 
had granted him. That is how humans are made! j 

If prayers remain unanswered, do we ever reflect 
that it may be for our good ? We feel sure that we 
know our needs, yet the future is veiled from our 
eyes. The thread of our fate ends outside the 
visible world and what today we mistake for a 
padlock, keeping us out, we may tomorrow find 
to be the key that lets us in. 

Much, of course, can happen in the meantime. 

Our hero desired the jewel he did not possess, as 
the oyster nourishes its pearl, so he prayed and 
clamoured until in the end God fulfilled his wish. 

He was given a boy, who looked like the smile 
of a pomegranate, like a rose whose petals have 
opened overnight, like a diamond which transforms 
the darkness of the world into sheer light. 

Delighted, the happy father opened wide the 
door of his treasury. Everyone was to share his 

happiness and the great event was celebrated with 
shouts of joy and words of blessing. 

The child was committed to the care of a nurse, 
so that under her watchful eye he should grow 
big and strong. So he did, and every drop of milk 
he drank was turned in his body into a token of 
faithfulness, every bite he ate became in his heart a 
morsel of tenderness. Each line of indigo, drawn 
on his face to protect him against the Evil Eye, 
worked magic in his soul. 

All this, however, remained a secret, hidden 
from every eye. 

Two weeks after his birth the child already 
looked like the moon after fourteen days and his 
parents gave him the name of Qays. 

A year went by and the boy’s beauty grew to 
perfection. As a ray of light penetrates the water, 
so the jewel of love shone through the veil of his 

Playful and joyful, he grew year by year — a care- 
fully protected flower in the happy 

When he was seven years old, the violet- 
coloured down of his first beard began to shimmer 
on his tulip cheeks and when he had reached his 
first decennium people told the story of his beauty 
like a fairy tale. Whoever saw him — if only from 
afar — called upon heaven to bless him. 


f I 


N OW the father sent the boy to 
school. He entrusted him to a 
learned man to whom distin- 
guished Arabs took their children, so that he 
should teach them everything of use in this world. 
Instead of playing, they were now to study in 
earnest and if they went a little in fear of the strict 
master, there was no harm in that. 

Soon Qays was one of the best pupils. He easily 
mastered the arts of reading and writing and when 
he talked it was as if his tongue was scattering 
pearls. It was a delight to listen to him. But then 
something happened which no one had foreseen. 
Listen! Among his fellow pupils were girls. Just 
like the boys, they came from noble families of 
various tribes. One day a beautiful little girl joined 
the group — a jewel such as one sees but seldom. 
She was as slender as a cypress tree. Her eyes, like 
those of a gazelle, could have pierced a thousand 
hearts with a single unexpected glance, yes, with 
one flicker of her eyelashes she could have slain a 
whole world. 

To look at, she was like an Arabian moon, yet 


when it came to stealing hearts, she was a Persian 
page. Under the dark shadow of her hair, her face 
was a lamp, or rather a torch, with ravens weaving 
their wings around it. And who would have thought 
that such overwhelming sweetness could flow from 
so small a mouth. Is it possible, then, to break 
whole armies with one small grain of sugar ? She 
really did not need rouge ; even the milk she drank 
turned into the colour of roses on her lips and 
cheeks; and she was equipped with lustrous eyes 
and a mole on her cheek even when her mother 
brought her into the world. 

The name of this miracle of creation was Layla. 
Does not ‘Layl’ mean ‘night’ in Arabic ? And dark 
as the night was the colour of her hair. 

Whose heart would not have filled with longing 
at the sight of this girl ? But young Qays felt even 
more. He was drowned in the ocean of love before 
he knew that there was such a thing. He had al- 
ready given his heart to Layla before he understood 
what he was giving away. . . . And Layla ? She 
fared no better. A fire had been lit in both — and 
each reflected the other. 

What could they have done against it ? A bearer 
had come and filled their cups to the brim. They 
drank what he poured out for them. They were 
children and did not realize what they were drink- 
ing; no wonder they became drunk. He who is 
drunk for the first time, becomes deeply drunk 
indeed. And heavily falls he who has never had a 
fall before. 

Together they had inhaled the scent of a flower, 



its name unknown, its magic great. ... As yet no 
one had noticed, so they went on drinking their 
wine and enjoying the sweet scent. They drank by 
day and dreamed by night, and the more they drank 
the deeper they became immersed in each other. 
Their eyes became blind and their ears deaf to the 
school and the world. They had found each other: 

While all their friends were toiling at their books 

These two were trying other ways of learning. 

Reading love’s grammar in each other’s looks. 

Glances to them were marks which they were 

Their minds were freed from spelling by love’s 

Thy practised, writing notes full of caress; 

The others learned to count — while thy could tell, 

That nothing ever counts but tenderness. 

1 8 

H OW happy this first flowering of 
love for Qays and Layla ! But can 
such happiness last ? Was not 
a shadow already falling over their radiance — even 
if the children did not notice it ? What did they 
know about the ways and the laws of this world ? 
They did not count hours or days, until suddenly 
disaster struck. 

Just as Joseph came out of his pit, so the sun, a 
golden orange, ascends every morning from the 
hem of the horizon like a precious toy in the sky ; 
yet every evening, exhausted and worn out by the 
day’s labour, it sinks back towards the west into 
the deep well. So Layla also shone forth in her 
morning. Every day she grew more beautiful. Not 
only Qays, also his companions at school became 
aware of it. Openly or secretly they began to stare 
at her ; and if they caught only a glimpse of her 
chin, shaped like a lemon with little dimples, they 
felt like ripe pomegranates, full of juice, ready to 
burst with desire. 

Was not Qays bound to notice ? Certainly — and 
for the first time a bitter taste mingled with the 



sweet scent of his love. He was no longer alone with 
Layla. A small crack appeared in his blind happi- 
ness, he had a foreboding of what was to come; 
but it was too late. 

While the lovers turned their backs on the 
world, drinking the wine of oblivion and enjoying 
their paradise, the eyes of the world turned to- 
wards them. Did the others understand what they 
saw ? Could they decipher the secret code of signs 
and glances ? How could they fail ? But they under- 
stood in their own petty way, driven by curiosity, 
spurred by jealousy and spite and pleasure over 
other people’s discomfiture! And how easy the 
lovers made it for their enemies to set their traps. 

‘What, you have not heard ?’ they sneered. And 
from mouth to mouth it was whispered, from ear 
to ear, from tent to tent. 

When wagging tongues abused what was so fair , 

Their eyes and lips could now no longer shield — 

Caught by the gossip in the square — 

The tender secret which each glance revealed. 

Hard is the awakening for people so deeply 
intoxicated by their dreams. Now Layla and Qays 
began to notice the pointing fingers, to hear the 
reproaches, the derision, the whisperings behind 
their backs, to see strangers’ eyes, watching, spy- 
ing, following. 

Suddenly they realized their blindness. Why had 
they never noticed the hunters and their weapons ? 
Now they tried to mend the tom veil, to protect 
their naked love from the world, to hide their 


longing for each other, to tame their glances and to 
seal their lips. 

They sought to be cautious and patient, but what 
use ? Like the musk-deer, love, betrayed by its 
scent, cannot hide; like the sun, it penetrates 
clouds. Caution and patience are no chains for a 
lover already chained a thousand-fold by the tresses 
of his beloved. Qays’ soul was a mirror for Layla’s 
beauty — how could he remain silent about all he 
saw in it ? How could he avert his glance from the 
fountain-head of his life ? 

He tried, but his heart was no longer at one with 
his reason. If reason asked him to avoid his love, his 
heart fell ill with longing for her. Away from her, 
Qays found no peace, yet searching her out was to 
imperil both. 

Was there a way out ? The youth could not see 
any, and his heart suddenly lost its balance, like a 
beast of burden, which stumbles and falls when the 
load on its back suddenly breaks loose. But those 
who never stumble nor fall, looked on and said, 
‘He is a majnun, a madman.’ 

Soon everyone knew and the more people saw 
and heard of him, the madder he appeared. But he 
did nothing to pacify those who reproached him. 
On the contrary, he walked among them, praising 
Layla’s beauty — like a sleepwalker recalling a dream 
in the middle of the day. Who would do such a thing ? 

Disaster swiftly took its course. Too many 
hounds were chasing the stag, tongues hanging 
from their ravening mouths, barking and growling, 
panting and jeering. 









It became too much for Layla’s people. Was not 
the girl’s honour also that of her family ? More, 
that of her whole tribe ? Was it right that this mad 
fellow, this Qays of the Banu Amir, should play 
around with her until her name became a laughing- 
stock ? 

From now on Layla’s parents kept their daughter 
at home. They guarded her carefully and saw to it 
that Qays had no chance to meet her. They kept 
the new moon hidden from the fool ; the way to the 
pastures was now blocked for the young gazelle. 
What could Layla do against it ? 

She had to hide the sadness of her heart. Only 
when she was alone did she drop the curtain and 
shed lonely tears. 



T HE separation from his beloved 
robbed the youth of his home and 
if Layla wept secretly, he openly 
displayed his unhappiness for everyone to see. 

He appeared now here, now there. He wandered 
about in the small alleys between the tents and in ' 

the bazaar where the merchants and artisans have 
their stalls. He walked aimlessly, driven only by 
his aching heart, without heeding the staring eyes ; 
tears springing from under his eyelashes like wild 
mountain streams. All the time he sang melancholy 
songs such as lovers are wont to sing in their 
misery. . . . 

When he passed by, people around him shouted : 

‘Look, the Madman, Majnun is coming ... \ 

Majnun ! ’ 

The reins had slipped from the rider’s hand. His 
innermost being was revealed like the heart of a 
split fruit. He had not only lost his beloved, but 
also himself. Everyone saw in his face the reflection 
of the fire scorching his heart, saw the blood run- 
ning from his wound. He was suffering because of 
his beloved, but she remained far away. The longer 

it lasted, the more Qays became Majnun. Burning 
like a candle, he did not sleep at night and, while 
he searched for a remedy to cure soul and body, 
both were filled with deadly pain. Each day, at 
dusk, the ghosts of his vain hopes chased him out 
into the desert, barefoot and bareheaded. 

Then strange things began to happen. Majnun 
had been separated from Layla, yet his longing 
made him the slave of his imprisoned Mistress. A 
madman he became — but at the same time a poet, 
the harp of his love and of his pain. 

At night, when everyone was asleep, he secretly 
stole to the tent of his beloved. Sometimes two or 
three friends who had suffered the torments of love 
like him, accompanied him on his wanderings, but 
mostly he was alone, reciting his poems. Swift as 
the north wind he flew along, kissed Layla’s 
threshold like a shadow and returned before the 
new day dawned. 

How hard it was to return ! It seemed to take a 
year. On his way to her he ran fast, like water 
pouring into a trough. On the way back he crawled, 
as if he had to make his way through a hundred 
crevasses thick with thorn-bushes. If fate had 
allowed him happiness, he would never have 
returned home, where he now felt a stranger. His 
heart had suffered shipwreck, drifting helplessly in 
a boundless ocean ; there seeemd no end to the fury 
of the gale. He hardly listened to what people were 
saying; he no longer cared. Only when he heard 
Layla’s name did he take notice. When they talked 
about other things, his ears and lips were sealed. 

2 5 


|;| ! 

He walked around like a drunkard; weeping 
bitterly, he lurched, fell and jumped to his feet 
again. When Layla’s tribe pitched their tents in 
the mountainous area of Najd, only there did he 
want to live. Once, when his strength failed him 
he gave a message for Layla to the east wind. These 
were his words : 

‘East wind, be gone early in the morning, caress 
her hair and whisper in her ear: “One who has 
sacrificed everything for you, lies in the dust on his 
way to you. He is seeking your breath in the blow- 
ing of the wind and tells his grief to the earth. 
Send him a breath of air as a sign that you are 
thinking of him.” 

I ‘Oh my beloved, had I not given my soul to you, 

trembling with desire like the wind, it would have 
been better to lose it. I would not be worth the 
dust in which I am lying. . . . Look, I am being 
consumed in the fire of my love, drowned in the 
tears of my unhappiness. Even the sun which illu- 
mines the world, is singed by the heat of my sighs. 
Invisible candle of my soul, do not torture the 
night-moth fluttering around you. Your eyes have 
bewitched mine and sleep escapes them by day and 
fj by night. 

‘My longing for you is the consolation of my 
heart, its wound and its healing salve. If only you 
could send me the tiniest morsel of your sweet 
lips ! The Evil Eye has suddenly separated me from 
you, my moon. My enemy has wrenched the juicy 
fruit from my hand and thrown me, so desperately 
thirsty, to the ground; now he points his fingers 



at me as I lie dying of my wounds. Yes, I am a 
victim of the world’s Evil Eye, which has stolen 
what was my own. Who would not be afraid of it ? 
People try to protect their children with blue 
amulets ; even the sun, afraid of its darkness, 
wears a veil of pure sky-blue. 

‘But I was not protected by amulets, no veil 
covered my secret, no ruins offered a hiding-place 
for my treasure ; that is why the world could rob me 
of it.’ 



O NCE more the young day don- 
ned his morning coat, woven 
from shimmering brocade. He 
adorned the ear of the sky with the precious golden 
ornament of the sun and the quicksilver of the stars 
melted in its red flames. 

Majnun appeared, together with his friends, near 
the tent of his beloved. So far he had only come by 
night, wrapped in the cloak of darkness, but now 
he could bear it no longer. His patience was at an 
end ; he had to see her, Layla, for whom his heart 
was crying out. The closer he came to his goal, the 
less certain were his steps ; drunk with longing and 
confused by feverish hope, his lips trembled like the 
verses of the poem he was chanting. 

Suddenly he stopped. In front of him he saw the 
tent — and what else ? Seldom do dreams become so 
real. The curtain was withdrawn and in the en- 
trance of the tent unveiled in the light of day, 
clearly visible against the dark interior, Layla was 
sitting; Layla, his moon. 

Majnun sighed deeply. Now Layla saw him, and 
they recognized in the mirror of each other’s face 


their own fear, their own pain and love. Neither 
stirred; only their eyes met, their voices caressed 
each other, softly exchanging plaintive sighs, which 
they were used to confide to the wind and to the 

Layla was a lute, Majnun a viola. 

All the radiance of this morning was Layla, yet a 
candle was burning in front of her, consuming itself 
with desire. She was the most beautiful garden and 
Majnun was a torch of longing. She planted the 
rose-bush ; he watered it with his tears. 

What shall I say about Layla ? She was a fairy, not 
a human being. How shall I describe Majnun ? He 
was a fairy’s torch, alight from head to foot. 

Layla was a jasmin-bush in spring, Majnun a 
meadow in autumn, where no jasmin was growing. 
Layla could bewitch with one glance from beneath 
her dark hair, Majnun was her slave and a dervish 
dancing before her. Layla held in her hand the 
glass of wine scented with musk. Majnun had not 
touched the wine, yet he was drunk with its sweet 
smell. . . . 

Only this encounter, brief and from afar was 
permitted to the lovers, then Majnun, afraid of 
guards and spies, ran away, lest the wheel of fate 
should turn even this fleeting happiness to disaster. 
He escaped from Layla in order to find her. 



M AJNUN’S secret sorties did not 
long remain hidden from Layla ’ s 
people, who were incensed. 
By day and by night they guarded the whole area, 
to block the way against the disturber of the peace. 
The bridge between the two banks had fallen in; 
no sound reached the other side. 

Still, Majnun continued to roam in the mountains 
of Najd. More and more often, and for ever leng- 
thening spells, he left the dwelling-places and 
pastures of his tribe, wandering aimlessly through 
the desert, composing ghazels which he sang to 
himself. He was in rags and looked wilder each day. 
Overwhelmed by his melancholia, he did not listen 
to anyone or anything. Nothing that otherwise 
pleases or disturbs a man found an echo in his 
heart. His two or three companions had long since 
left him. From afar people pointed at him and said : 
‘There goes Majnun, the madman, the crazy one, 
who was once called Qays. He heaps shame and 
dishonour on himself and his people.’ 

There was not one among Majnun’ s people 
who did not feel ashamed of him. They had done 


all they could to avert disaster and help the youth in 
his trouble, but what good had that done in the 
end ? Can one quench such a conflagration with 
good advice ? And who of the counsellors had ever 
suffered such grief ? 

Still, it could not go on like this. Not only the 
lover’s sanity, but the reputation of his family, of 
the whole tribe was at stake. Was not Qays’ father 
the leader of the Amir ? 

He was, and no one was so shaken by the 
disaster which his son caused and suffered. Yet 
even he could not change the course of fate. 
He was an old man, growing rapidly older under 
the strain. 

When Majnun’s state, far from improving, 
deteriorated even further, his father, the Sayyid, 
one day assembled all the counsellors and elders in 
his tent. He asked everyone and each told what he 
knew. The story was long and sad and when the 
old man had heard it from beginning to end, his 
head sank lower and his heart grew heavier. What 
could be done ? After he had considered carefully 
what he had heard, he spoke : ‘My son has lost his 
heart to this girl; if he could only win her, he 
would find himself again. His senses are confused, 
because for him this jewel is the eye of the world. 
As it is hidden from him, he lives in darkness, a 
blind man. We must find his pearl. If we brush the 
dust from the budding rose, it will break into 

Then the Sayyid asked all the elders, one after 
the other, to give their opinion — and behold, they 


rr 1 

all agreed! Trying to win for the sleepwalker his 
moon, a delegation was to be sent to Layla’s tribe. 

No sooner said than done and the old Sayyid led 
the dignitaries on their way. His sadness gone, he 
was full of confidence that he could untie the knot 
in his son’s life-thread. 

There was no feud between the two tribes, so, 
when the visitors arrived, they were received by 
Layla’s people high and humble with great friendli- 
ness, feasted and treated with great deference. Only 
then did the hosts turn to the Sayyid, asking 
politely what he desired. 

‘Tell us why you have come’, they said. ‘If you 
are in need of help, it will be granted. We count 
it an honour to assist you. ’ 

‘These young people, on whose behalf I am 
approaching you, will strengthen the ties between 
us’, responded the Sayyid of the Amiri tribe. 

Then he looked at Layla’s father, who was 
accompanied by the dignitaries of his tribe, and 
said to him : 

‘May your daughter and my son enhance each 
other’s lives! Behold, I have come to establish a 
close link between us. I ask for your child’s hand 
on behalf of my own. Both have grown up in the 
same desert. My son is thirsting to drink from your 
fountain, and such pure drink will restore him, body 
and soul. . . . Nor have I any cause to be ashamed 
of my request. There is, as you know, no man 
among us whose standing is higher than mine. I have 
many followers and great riches, I can be a valuable 
friend or a formidable enemy. Whatever you 




demand as a dowry shall be yours. I have come as a 
buyer, and you, if you are wise, will state your 
price and sell. Take note, there is a chance of great 
gain for you today; tomorrow it may be too late. 
Do not forget how often prices fall suddenly in the 
bazaar ! ’ 

Thus spoke the Sayyid. Anxiety for his son 
sharpened his tongue. But Layla’s father was a 
proud, hard man. After the Amiri had finished, 
this was his reply: 

‘What you say is your own affair, but you cannot 
change fate or the course of the world by words. 
You speak well and your words are full of sap, but 
do you really think that enough to lure me into the 
fire ? You have shown me the attractive cover, but 
what lies hidden underneath, causing my enemies 
greatly to rejoice, you have not mentioned. Your 
son is a stately youth and, seen from afar, would be 
welcome anywhere. But don’t we all know better 
than that ? Who has not heard more than enough 
about him and his foolishness ? Who is not aware 
of his madness ? He is mad, and a madman is no son- 
in-law for us. Therefore you had better pray first 
that he be cured ; afterwards you may mention mar- 
riage again, but until then there can be no question 
of it. Nobody would buy a faulty jewel to be set 
with flawless ones. And there is something else! 
You know only too well how keen-eyed and sharp- 
tongued Arabs are. What would they say, and how 
would they jeer, if I did what you suggest. Forget, 
therefore, what you have said!’ 

This was a bitter pill for Majnun’s father to 

f . 




swallow, but what could he say ? He remained 
silent, and so did his companions. All they 
could do was to depart. It was a sad home- 
coming for them, who had set out so certain of 




W HEN Majnun’s father and his 
friends had failed to obtain 
Layla’s hand, they tried once 
more to cure the youth by warnings and good 
advice. ‘Why’, so they said, ‘do you worship only 
this girl Layla ? Look around among the girls of 
your own tribe. You will find so many with lips like 
hyacinths, sweet-scented and dressed in Egyptian 
linen ; beauties who are perhaps even more 
attractive than she who has stolen your heart. You 
are free to choose from among a hundred maidens, 
each of them lovelier than the new spring. Find a 
companion who will be a comfort to you instead 
of torturing your heart, a girl like milk and honey, 
worthy of you. Let the foreigner go ! ’ 

Thus his friends talked; their intentions were 
good, but what did they know about the fire 
burning in Majnun’s soul ? Their words nursed the 
conflagration like thorn-bushes; prickly at first, 
they soon began to bum and increased the flame 
which they were meant to smother. 

No; Majnun was now doubly in despair about 
the answer of Layla’s father and the warnings of his 

3 S 

own people. Nothing could sweeten the bitterness 
which transformed his world into darkest night. 
Expelled from the land of happiness, he was now a 
stranger in either world. He beat his head with his 
fists and rent his garment from top to bottom. 
Even a corpse has at least a shroud, but then a 
corpse is at home in his grave — Majnun had no 
home anywhere. 

He left his father and his relatives and ran away, 
paying no attention to roads and directions. He 
called out : ‘There is no power and no might except 
with Allah.’ And truly, God alone knows how the 
unhappy youth overcame his desire to kill himself, 
for everything that binds human beings had fallen 
away from him. 

He no longer knew what was good and what was 
evil and could not distinguish the one from the 
other. Through every tent rang out his cry, ‘Layla 
. . . Layla!’ 

His hair fell unkempt about his face, his eyes 
stared ; yet he saw nothing of his fellow men, nor 
heard their reproaches. 

The crowd who watched and followed him was 
growing all the time. They were greatly upset by 
his behaviour, but when he began to talk in verse 
and sing about his love ; when he addressed the star 
of his longing ; when the fire in his heart reached 
the tip of his tongue and sadness resounded from 
his lips, the mood of his listeners changed. They 
stood surprised and deeply moved, and soon there 
was no one who did not shed tears about the min- 
strel and his fate. 


Majnun, however, noticed neither reproach nor 
sympathy. He was not even aware of the people 
around him. It was as if his name had been tom out 
of the Book of Life, and he had fallen into nothing- 
ness ; as if he were no longer one of the living, and 
not yet one of the dead. A stone had dropped on 
his heart; he was like a bumt-out candle, or a 
maimed bird that has lost its mate and flutters 
helplessly in the dust. In the end strength left his 
body. He fell to his knees as if at prayer, and cried 
until consciousness returned and he felt pain 
flowing over his lips like a dark stream : 

‘Oh, who can cure my sickness? An outcast I 
have become. Family and home, where are they? 
No path leads back to them and none to my beloved. 
Broken are my name, my reputation, like glass 
smashed on a rock ; broken is the drum which once 
spread the good news, and my ears now hear only 
the drumbeat of separation. 

‘Huntress, beautiful one, whose victim I am — 
limping, a willing target for your arrows. I follow 
obediently my beloved, who owns my soul. If she 
says “Get drunk,” that is what I shall do. If she 
orders me to be mad, that is what I shall be. To 
tame a madman like me, fate has no chains ; crushed 
as I am, what hope is there that I could ever be 
revived? Heaven grant that a rockfall may crush 
and bury me, or that lightning may strike me, 
burning down the house with all its furnishings! 
Is there no one who will throw me into the 
crocodile-jaws of death, no one who will free me 
from myself, and the world from my shame ? 


Misbegotten creature, madman, demon of my 
family ! 

‘Yes, I am a thorn in the flesh of my people, and 
even my name brings shame upon my friends. Any- 
one may shed my blood ; I am outlawed, and who 
kills me is not guilty of murder. 

‘Goodbye to you, companions of past feastings. 

I salute you. Farewell ! Look, the wine is spilled, 
the glass has slipped from my hands and broken. Of 
my happiness only the shards are left, with sharp 
edges which cause deep anguish. But when you 
come, do not be afraid of cutting your feet. The 
flood of my tears has swept away the shards — far, 
far, away.’ 

Did Majnun notice the people who surrounded 
him silently, staring and listening? So it seemed, 
for he turned and spoke to them : 

‘What do you know, who have no notion of my 
grief ? Away with you, make room ! Do not look 
for me ; I am not where you believe me to be. I am 
lost, even to myself! One does not address people 
like me! You torture and oppress me. How much 
longer ? Leave me alone with my unhappiness. No 
need to chase me from your tents, I shall go freely 
— I am going ! ’ 

But Majnun no longer had the strength to flee. 
He fell on his knees in the dust. Again and again, in 
deep desperation, his heart went out to Layla, who 
was so far away, and implored her to help him. 

‘I have fallen; what shall I do ? Oh, my beloved, 
come and take my hand. I can endure it no longer, 
I am yours, more use to you alive than dead. Be 




generous and send a greeting, send a message to 
revive me. You are imprisoned, I know. But why 
imprison you ? I am the madman, I should be 
fettered. Bind me to you, wind again your tresses 
round my neck; they are tom, yet I remain your 
slave. Do something; help me! This is a cruel 
game. End it ! Lift your foot that I may kiss it. . . . 
Things cannot remain as they are. It is not right to 
sit in the corner, arms folded, doing nothing. Take 
pity on me. A rested man has no feeling for one 
who is exhausted. A rich man, his hunger stilled, 
who invites a beggar to his table, knows nothing 
about starvation. Yet he may eat a few morsels to 
honour his guest. Aren’t we both human beings, 
you as well as I, even if you are a blossoming beech 
tree while I am a dry thorn-bush ? 

‘Peace of my soul, where are you ? Why do you 
rob me of my life ? Other than my love, what is 
the sin of my heart, this heart which asks for your 
forgiveness ? Of a thousand nights give me only one. 
Look, everything else I have gambled away and lost. 

‘Do not say “No”. If you are angry with me, 
quench the fire of your wrath with the water of my 
years. I am a star, my new moon, driven to distrac- 
tion by my longing to see you. My only companion 
is my shadow, and even with him I do not dare to 
talk, fearing lest he might become a rival. If only 
your shadow had stayed with me, but even that you 
have taken away, and my heart and soul with it. 
What did I receive in return ? What is left to me ? 
Hope ? A thirsty child may well, in a dream, see a 
hand offering a golden cup, but when he wakes, 


what remains ? All that he can do is suck his fingers 
to quench his thirst. What does it matter ! Nothing 
can ever extinguish the love for you in my heart. It 
is a riddle without a solution, a code which none 
can decipher. It entered my body with my mother’s 
milk — to leave it only together with my soul, of 
that I am sure.’ 

Here Majnun fell silent. His voice failed and, 
unconscious, he fell forward, his face in the dust. 
All who had listened to him and saw him lying there, 
felt sad. Gently they lifted the unhappy youth and 
carried him home to his father’s tent. 

Love, if not true, is but a plaything of the senses, 
fading like youth. Time perishes, not true love. All 
may be imagination and delusion, but not love. 
The charcoal brazier on which it bums is eternity 
itself, without beginning or end. 

Majnun won fame as a lover, for he carried love’s 
burden as long as he lived. Love was the flower’s 
scent and the breath of the wind. Even now, when 
the rose has faded, a drop of the rose-water endures 
and will last for ever, giving pleasure to you, 
reader, and to Nizami. 

ill 1 

: i 


T HE further away his moon, Layla, 
shone in the sky, the higher 
Majnun waved the banner of his 
love ! As his mad passion grew day by day, so his 
repute declined among his friends. 

But as yet his family and, above all, his father, 
had not given up hope that his dark night might 
end and a new morning dawn. Once more they 
took counsel, and, having talked for a long time 
without result, their thoughts finally converged on 
the Caaba, God’s sanctuary in Mecca, visited every 
year by thousands and thousands of faithful pilgrims 
from near and far, 

‘Well’, they said, ‘could it not happen after all 
that the Almighty One would come to our aid, 
that the door for which we have no key would 
- suddenly open ? Is not the Caaba the Altar of 
heaven and earth, where the whole world prays for 
God’s blessing and help. Why not we ?’ 

Majnun’s father, the old Sayyid, agreed. He 
prepared everything he thought necessary and when 
the month of pilgrimage, the twelfth and last of the 
year, had come, he left with a small caravan for the 


Holy City. He had chosen his best camels for the 
journey; and for Majnun, the apple of his eye, he 
had secured a litter, which carried the lovesick 
youth as gently as a moon’s cradle. 

They reached Mecca safely. As he had done on 
the way, the leader of the tribe showered alms 
on the crowd, like a dust-storm, which carries 
gold coins instead of sand. But a storm raged 
also in his breast and the nearer they came 
to their goal, the more excited he became. 
Devoured by hope and impatience he could hardly 
wait for the moment when he would be able 
to entrust his sorrow-child to the grace of the 

At last the time had come ; father and son stood 
in the shadow and protection of the Holiest of 
Holies. Gently the Sayyid took the youth by the 
hand and said to him : 

‘Here, my dearest son, every play comes to its 
end. Try to find relief from your sufferings. Here, 
in front of this temple and its Master, you must pray 
to be freed from your sorrow. Listen ; this should 
be your prayer: “Save me, my God, from this vain 
ecstasy. Have pity on me; grant me refuge; take 
my madness away and lead me back to the path of 
righteousness. I am love’s unhappy victim! Help 
me! Free me from the evil of my love.” Recite 
this prayer, my son.’ 

When Majnun heard his father speaking he wept, 
then began to laugh. Suddenly, a strange thing 
happened. He darted forward like the head of a 
coiled snake, stretched out his hands towards the 


Majnun before the 
Holy Caaba in Mecca 


door of the temple, hammered against it and 
shouted : 

‘Yes, it is I, who knocks at this door today! I 
have sold my life for love’s sake ! Yes, it is I ; may I 
always be love’s slave ! They tell me : abandon love, 
that is the path to recovery — but I can gain strength 
only through love. If love dies, so shall I. My nature 
is love’s pupil ; be my fate nothing, if not love, and 
woe to the heart incapable of passion. I ask thee, 
my God, I beseech thee, in all the godliness of thy 
divine nature and all the perfection of thy kingdom : 
let my love grow stronger, let it endure, even if I 
perish. Let me drink from this well, let my eye 
never miss its light. If I am drunk with the wine of 
love, let me drink even more deeply. 

‘They tell me: “Crush the desire for Layla in 
your heart!” But I implore thee, oh my God, let 
it grow even stronger. Take what is left of my life 
and add it to Layla’s. Let me never demand from 
her as much as a single hair, even if my pain reduces 
me to the width of one ! Let her punish and casti- 
gate me: her wine alone shall fill my cup, and my 
name shall never appear without her seal. My life 
shall be sacrificed for her beauty, my blood shall be 
spilled freely for her, and though I bum for her 
painfully, like a candle, none of my days shall ever 
be free of this pain. Let me love, oh my God, love 
for love’s sake, and make my love a hundred times 
as great as it was and is ! ’ 

Such was Majnun’s prayer to the Almighty. His 
father listened silently. What could he say ? He 
knew now that he could not loosen the fetters 


binding this heart, could not find a cure for its ills. 
There was nothing to do but to leave Mecca and 
start on the trek home, where they were awaited 
impatiently in sorrow and fear. When they 
arrived, the whole family surrounded the Sayyid: 
‘How was it ?’ they clamoured. ‘Tell us ! Has Allah 
helped ? Is he saved ?’ 

But the old man’s eyes looked tired and sad. ‘I 
have tried’, he said, ‘I have told him how to ask 
God for relief from this plague, this Layla. But he 
clung to his own ideas. What did he do ? He 
cursed himself and blessed Layla. ’ 


T HE pilgrimage to Mecca and the 
old Sayyid’s vain attempt to heal 
his son’s madness was talked 
about everywhere. Soon there was no tent whose 
inhabitants did not know about it. The story of 
Majnun’s love was on everybody’s lips. Some 
reproached him and jeered, others pitied and 
tried to defend him. Many spread evil rumours; a 
few even spoke well of him — sometimes. 

Bedouin gossip came also to Layla’s ears, but 
what could she do about it ? She remained silent, in 
secret grief. The members of her tribe, however, 
angry and bitter, sent mounted emissaries to the 
caliph’s prefect and laid a complaint against the 

madman’, the two delegates said, ‘imperils 
by his behaviour, the honour of our tribe. Day 
after day he trails around the countryside, his hair 
dishevelled and a bunch of hooligans running after 
him like a pack of hounds loosed from their chains. 
Now he dances, now he kisses the soil. All the 
time he composes and recites his ghazels. And as, 
unfortunately, his verses are good and his voice 


pleasant, people learn these songs by heart. That is 
bad both for you and for us, because whatever this 
impertinent fellow composes tears the veils of 
custom and decency a hundred-fold. Through him 
Layla is branded with a hot iron, and if this perilous 
wind continues to blow it will extinguish the lamp. 
Order, therefore, his punishment, so that Layla, 
our moon, may henceforth be safe from this 

The caliph’s prefect, having listened to their 
speech, drew his sword out of its sheath, showed 
it to the two emissaries, and replied: ‘Give your 
answer with this ! ’ 

By chance a man from the tribe of Amir happened 
to overhear. What did he do ? He went to the 
Sayyid and reported : 

‘So far nothing untoward has happened’, he said, 
‘but I warn you ; this prefect is out for blood ; he is 
a raging torrent and a blazing fire. Seeing that 
Majnun does not know the danger threatening him, 
I am afraid that by the time he realizes it, it may be 
too late. We must warn him of this open well, lest 
he fall into it.’ 

That is how the informant spoke and his words 
stung the father’s wounded heart like salt. He 
feared for his son’s life; but however anxiously 
they searched for him, he was not to be found. In 
the end all the men sent out to trace him, came 
back discouraged. ‘Who knows,’ they said, 
‘perhaps his fate has already overtaken him? Per- 
haps wild animals have tom him to pieces, or even 
worse has happened to him.’ 


Whereupon the youth’s kinsmen and companions 
raised wailings and lamentations as if they were 
mourning the dead. 

But Majnun was not dead. As before, he had 
gone to a hiding-place in the wilderness. There he 
was living alone, a hidden treasure ; he neither saw 
nor heard what was happening in the world. In 
that world, were they not all hunters and hunted ? 
Did that still concern him ? Had he not turned his 
back on it ? Had he not troubles enough of his own ? 
He did not want the pity of his fellow men. He 
suffered because he could not find the treasure for 
which he was searching ; yet his grief provided him 
with a free passage, liberating him from the fetters 
of selfishness. 

i ; Now let us see what happened then. After a 

time, chance brought a Bedouin from the Saad 
tribe walking along the same path. When he saw 
the lonely figure crouching in solitude, he at first 
suspected a mirage — a fata Morgana; who else 
would keep his own shadow company in such a 
place ? 

But when he heard a soft moaning, he went 
nearer and asked: ‘Who are you? What are you 
doing here ? How can I help you ?’ 

However often he repeated his questions he 
received no answer. In the end his patience became 
exhausted ; he continued on his way, but when he 
arrived home he told his family about the strange 

|| ‘On my way through a mountain gorge I met a 

creature writhing on the stones like a snake, like a 


madman in pain, like a lonely demon ; his body was 
so wasted that every bone was visible.’ 

When Majnun’ s father heard about it he set out 
at once to bring home his lost son from the wilder- 
ness. He reached the hiding-place and found Maj- 
nun as the Bedouin had described him : now talking 
to himself in verse, now moaning and sighing. He 
wept, stood up and collapsed again, he crawled and 
stumbled, a living image of his own fate. He 
swooned and was hardly conscious, so that at first 
he did not recognize his own father. But then, 
when the Sayyid addressed and comforted him, the 
firmness of his voice brought Majnun back to him- 
self. He collapsed at the old man’s feet like a 
shadow, and implored him in regret and despair : 
‘Crown of my head and haven of my soul, for- 
give me, forgive. Do not ask how I am, because you 
can see that I am weak. I wish you had been spared 
the pain of finding me in this state. Now you have 
come, my face turns black with shame! Forgive 
me; you know only too well how things are with 
me, but you also know that it is not ourselves who 
hold fate’s thread in our hands.’ 


T HE father tore the turban from 
his head and threw it to the 
ground. The day became as dark 
in his eyes as the night and he raised a plaintive 
song like a bird at dusk. 

But then he summoned his courage and spoke: 
‘Rose petal, tom and crumpled! Love’s fool, 
uncontrolled, immature, your heart burned ! What 
evil eye has cast a spell over your beauty ? Whose 
curse has blighted you ? For whose blood must you 
do penance ? Whose thorn has torn the hem of 
your robe ? What has pushed you into this abyss ? 

‘True, you are young, and youth has led many 
into confusion before — but not so deeply. Is your 
heart still not satiated with pain? Have you still 
not bom enough abuse and reproach ? Will there 
be no resurrection for you on earth ? Enough ! 
You are destroying yourself with your passion — 
and me and my honour as well. If one day you hope 
to marry, such lack of self-control is a great fault. 
Even if we do not like to show our weakness to the 
world, we should have friends, genuine and true 
like mirrors, clearly revealing our faults so that we 

can face and cure them. Let me be your mirror. 
Free your heart from this illness. Do not try any 
longer to forge a cold iron.’ 

Sadness in his voice, the old man continued : 
‘Perhaps you are not patient enough. You are 
persistent only in keeping away from me, your 
friend. You hardly look at me. But he who flees 
and keeps aloof, remains alone with the longing of 
his heart. Do you not know that? You try to 
become drunk without wine, you worship desire 
for its own sake. You have fled and left the harvest 
to the wind, you have abandoned me to the gloating 
satisfaction of my enemies. Regain your senses 
before it is too late. Do not forget: while you are 
playing the harp of your love, I am mourning for 
you, and when you are rending your garments 
asunder you are tearing my soul. When your heart 
bums, you also burn mine. Do not despair. Some 
little thing, useless as it may appear to you, can 
bring salvation. Despair may lead to hope just as 
night leads to dawn, if only you have faith. Look 
for the company of gay people, do not flee from 
happiness. Bliss can undo all knots; it is the tur- 
quoise in the seal of God. It will come to you, only 
you must have patience. Let your happiness grow 
slowly. Even the mighty sea consists of single drops ; 
even the mountain, cloud-high, of tiny grains of 
earth. And have you not all the time in the world ? 
With patience, you can search at ease for the 
precious stone. Be prudent! The dumb fall behind, 
like the worm without feet, but the clever fox can 
overcome the stronger wolf. Why do you give your 

heart to a rose ? She blossoms without you, while 
you remain in the mud ; she has a heart of stone — 
indeed your heart is being stoned ! Why ? 

‘They who talk to you about Layla seek your 
shame and disgrace. They offer you parsley which 
is poison to a man stung by a scorpion. You must 
see that, my son. Give up ! 

‘You are dearer to me than life itself. Come 
home and stay with us. Here in the mountains only 
tears await you; you will find nothing but stones 
on this path, and deep wells in which you will 
drown. Do not argue! Even the prefect is out to 
destroy you, and if you play with madness you are 
forging an iron chain for yourself. . . . Watch the 
sword, my child, drawn to smite you and take care 
of your life, while there is time. Make new 
friends, be gay, and laugh at the discomfort of your 
enemies ! 5 



5 2 


W HEN the old Sayyid had thus 
poured out all the hopes and 
sorrows stored up in his 
heart, Majnun could remain silent no longer, and 
this was his reply : 

‘You, whose Majesty equals that of Heaven itself, 
King of all our dwelling-places, inhabited or 
deserted, pride and glory of all Arabs, I kneel 
before you. I have received my life from you, may 
you never lose your own, and may I never lose you. 
Your words are scorching me — yet what can I do ? 
I, the man with the blackened face, have not chosen 
the way, I have been cast on to it. I am manacled, 
and my fetters, as you say, are made of iron. But it 
was not I who forged them; it was my fate, my 
Kismet, that decided. I cannot loosen them; I 
cannot throw off my burden. Not of its own will 
does the shadow fall into the depth of the well, not 
by its own power does the moon rise in the sky to 
its zenith. Wherever you look, from ant to ele- 
phant, you will find no object or creature, which 
is not ruled by fate. 

‘Who, therefore, could remove the load of 

S 3 

stone from my heart ? Who could wash away the 
disaster which is crushing me, which I have not 
chosen. I am carrying the burden which has been 
put on my shoulders, and cannot throw it off. You 
keep asking me, “Why do you never laugh ?” But 
tears rather than laughter become the sufferer. If 
I were to laugh, it would be as if lightning and 
thunder were laughing as they broke the clouds; 
the fire burning inside me would scorch my lips, 
and I would perish in the furnace of my mirth. . . . ’ 

Here Majnun interrupted himself and told this 
story to the Sayyid : 



‘There was once a partridge, which, when 
hunting, espied an ant, and seized in its beak one 
of the ant’s legs. It was just about to swallow it 
when the ant laughed and shouted: “Partridge, to 
laugh as I do, that’s one thing you are not capable 

‘The partridge was greatly upset. It did not stop 
to think; it just opened its beak to laugh heartily 
and said: “Really, it is my turn to laugh, and not 
yours.” But by that time the ant had escaped from 
the re-opened prison, and the silly partridge was 
left alone in the field. 

‘Man, if he laughs at the wrong time, will fare 
no better ; he will regret with tears that he 
laughed too soon.’ 


‘'W'' ALSO’, Majnun continued, ‘have 
I no reason to laugh. Even the old 
1 donkey does not throw down its 
burden before death takes it away. Why then should 
it fear death? You warned me, father; but what 
lover goes in fear of the sword ? A man in love 
does not tremble for his life. He who searches for 
his beloved is not afraid of the world. Where is 
this sword? Let it smite me, as the cloud has 
swallowed my moon. My soul has fallen into the 
fire, and even if it hurts to lie there, no matter; 
it was good to fall. 

‘Leave my soul alone. It is destroyed, it is lost; 
what do you want from it ?’ 

When the old man heard this, he shed bitter 
tears and, smarting with pain, took his disturbed 
son home. There the family nursed him, comfort- 
ing him as best they could. They also called on his 
former friends, and entrusted the child of sorrow 
to their care. 

But for Majnun they were all strangers. Life at 
home was one prolonged torture to him and all 
who saw him felt tears come into their eyes. How 

5 4 


could they help such a heart ? For two or three 
days Majnun bore the strain, then he tore down 
the curtain which his friends had put up to protect 
him and escaped once more into the desert of 
Najd. Like a drunken lion he roamed restlessly 
about in this desolate country of sand and rocks. 
His feet became as hard as iron, the palms of his 
hands like stone. He wandered through the moun- 
tains chanting his ghazels. But how strange! Even 
if Majnun was mad, his verses were not. Even if 
people heaped abuse and shame on him, they could 
find no fault in his verses. 

Many came from near and far to hear the minstrel 
in his mountain retreat. Listening eagerly and 
loving what they heard, they wrote down his 
poems and took them away to the farthest horizons. 
Some became lovers themselves. 

5 6 

I N the meantime Layla had grown 
daily more beautiful. The promise 
of the bud had been kept by the 
blossom. Half an enticing glance from her eyes 
would have been enough to conquer a hundred 
kings; she could have plundered Arab or Turk, 
had she wanted. 

Nobody could escape such a huntress. With her 
gazelle’s eyes she caught her victims and tied them 
with the rope of her tresses. Even a lion would 
have bent his neck gracefully under such a yoke. 

A flower was Layla’s face; anyone who looked 
at her, fell hungry for the honey of her lips and 
turned beggar for her kisses; but her eyelashes 
refused to give alms, and said, ‘May God grant 
you what you desire, I shall give nothing.’ 

Those who had been caught by the noose of her 
locks were chased away by the darts of her eye- 
lashes. Her body was like a cypress tree on which 
the pheasant of her face was sitting in majesty. 
Hundreds of lost hearts had already fallen into the 
well of her dimples, but our beauty took pity on 
those who had lost their footing and threw them 


her tresses as a rope to the rescue. So powerful 
was the spell of Layla’s beauty. 

Yet this enchantress could not help herself. Seen 
from outside she seemed to blossom; inside she 
shed tears of blood. Secretly she was looking for 
Majnun from morning till night ; and at midnight, 
when nobody could hear, her sighs were calling 
him. Her laughter was born of tears, like the light 
of a candle, and out of all they saw, her eyes 
formed the image of her beloved. 

Like Majnun, ever since their separation, she 
also burned in the fire of longing ; but her flames 
were hidden and no smoke rose from them. Layla, 
too, had her ‘mirror of pain’ like the one which 
the doctor holds in front of a dying man’s mouth 
to see whether a breath of life still clouds the glass ; 
but Layla’s mirror was her own soul which in her 
loneliness she questioned about her beloved. With 
whom else could she talk about the thoughts which 
filled her heart ? At night she told the secret to her 
shadow. She lived between the water of her tears 
and the fire of her love, as if she were a Peri, a 
fairy, hovering between fire and water. 

Though devoured by sorrow, Layla would not 
have told her grief for anything in the world. 
Sometimes, when no one was awake, the fountains 
of the moon made her step outside. There she stood, 
her eyes fixed on the path, waiting — for whom ? 
Did she hope that a messenger might pass by or 
even call upon her ? But only the wind blowing 
from the mountains of Najd brought a breath of 
faith from a lonely man, or drove a cloud 


across, whose rain was, for Layla, a greeting from 

Yet her lover’s voice reached her. Was he not a 

poet ? No tent curtain was woven so closely as to 
keep out his poems. Every child from the bazaar 

was singing his verses; every passer-by was hum- 
ming one of his love-songs, bringing Layla a mes- 

sage from her beloved, whether he knew it or 


Now Layla was not only a picture of gracefulness, 
but also full of wisdom and well versed in poetry. 
She herself, a pearl unpierced, pierced the pearls 
of words, threading them together in brilliant 
chains of poems. Secretly she collected Majnun’s 
songs as they came to her ears, committed them 
to memory and then composed her answers. 

These she wrote down on little scraps of paper, 
heading them with the words: ‘Jasmin sends this 
message to the cypress tree.’ Then, when no one 
was looking, she entrusted them to the wind. 

It happened often that someone found one of 
these little papers, and guessed the hidden mean- 
ing, realizing for whom they were intended. Some- 
times he would go to Majnun hoping to hear, as a 
reward, some of the poems which had become so 

And, true enough, there was no veil which could 
hide his beloved from Majnun. He answered at 
once, in verse, and whoever received the message 
saw to it that Layla should hear it at once. 

Thus many a melody passed to and fro between 
the two nightingales, drunk with their passion. 

S 9 

Those who heard them listened in delight, and so 
similar were the two voices that they sounded like 
a single chant. Bom of pain and longing, their song 
had the power to break the unhappiness of the 



I N the garden, blossoms were smiling 
from all the trees. This morning the 
earth had hoisted a twin-coloured 
banner of red tulips and yellow roses; and the 
tulips threw vermilion-red petals, with black sun- 
spots, over the emerald-green carpet of the lawn, 
still glistening with pearls of dew. 

As if playing, the violets hid from each other on 
their long, curved stems ; the rosebud girded itself 
and pointed thorny lances, ready for battle, while 
the water-lily, as if pausing in the fight, was resting 
her shield flat on the mirror-like surface of the pond. 
The hyacinth had opened wide her cups, the box 
tree was combing its hair, the blossoms of the 
pomegranate tree were longing for their own fruit, 
the narcissus glowing fiercely suddenly woke from 
a bad dream frightened like a feverish patient. 

The sun had opened the veins of the Judas tree, 
full of blood, like wine ; the wild rose was washing 
her leaves in the jasmin’s silver fountain, and the 
iris wielded her sword fiercely. 

In every plane tree the ringdoves cooed their 
love-stories, and on the topmost branch the 


nightingale was sitting, sighing like Majnun ; while 
below, the rose lifted her head out of her calyx 
towards the bird, like Layla. 

On one such happy day, when the roses were in 
full bloom, Layla came with some friends into the 
garden, to enjoy themselves among the beautiful 
flowers like the maidens in the garden of paradise. 

Did she intend to rest in the red shadow of the 
roses ? Or did she want to enrich the green of the 
grass with her own shadow, and lift her cup 
together with narcissus and tulip ? Did she come 
as a victor to demand tribute from the kingdom 
of these gardens in all their splendour ? 

Oh no ! None of that was in her mind. She had 
come to lament, like those burned by the flame of 
love. She wanted to talk to the nightingale, drunk 
with passion; tell her secret, describe her suffer- 
ings ; perhaps Zephir, breathing through the rose- 
gardens, would bring a sign from afar, from the 

Layla was trying to find comfort in the garden ; 
she looked at it as an ornament framing the image 
of the beloved ; perhaps it could show her the way 
to that other garden, the garden of paradise ? 

But of that the friends who accompanied Layla, 
knew nothing. For a while the girls walked among 
the roses, and wherever they passed, with their 
figures like cypress trees and their tulip-like faces, 
the flowers, as if in rivalry, blossomed twice as 

While the maidens, in merriment and laughter, 
rested in a secluded comer of the garden, Layla, 

walked on unnoticed and sat down, far from 
them, under a shady tree. There she could air her 
lament, as her heart desired, like a nightingale in 

‘O my faithful one’, she sighed, ‘are you not 
made for me, and I for you ? Noble youth with the 
passionate heart, how ice-cold is the breath of 
separation ! If only you would now walk through the 
gate of this garden, to heal my wounded heart. If 
only you could sit next to me, looking into my 
eyes, fulfilling my deepest desire, you my elm, and 
I your cypress . . . but, who knows, perhaps you 
have already suffered so much for my sake that you 
can no longer enjoy my love, nor the beauty of the 
garden. . . 

While Layla was thus dreaming of her beloved, 
suddenly a loud voice reached her ear. Someone 
was passing the garden, singing to himself. The 
voice was that of a stranger, but the lines were well 
known to her; she recognized Majnun’s verses at 

Majnun is torn by grief and suffering. 

Yet Layla's garden blooms as if in spring. 

How can his Love live joyfully, at rest 

And smile, while arrows pierce him, at a jest? 

When Layla heard this melancholy strain she 
broke into tears and wept so bitterly that it would 
have softened a stone. She had no idea that anyone 
was watching, but one of the girls had noticed her 
absence. Inquisitive, as girls are, she had followed 
behind, had heard the stranger’s song and had seen 


the tears in Layla’s eyes. Both surprised and 
frightened her. 

Returning home from the garden, she went 
secretly to Layla’s mother and told her what she 
had observed. The mother lost her head like a bird 
caught in a trap. What was she to do ? She suffered 
with her daughter; yet however hard she tried, 
she could not think of a remedy. 

j; ‘I must not allow Layla to do what her heart 

urges’, she told herself, ‘because that youth is a 
madman ; he will infect her with his own insanity. 
But if I urge her to be patient she, unable to bear 
it, may break down completely — and I with her.’ 

So the daughter’s suffering became a torment for 
the mother. Layla did not realize it; she did not 
reveal her secret and so her mother too remained 





O N the day of her visit to the 
garden, where so much else 
happened, Layla also saw by 
chance a youth from the tribe of Asad passing by 
on his travels. His name, Ibn Salam, was of good 
repute among the Arabs. He was a young noble- 
man ; when people saw him, they pointed him out, 
not in reproach, but as one is wont to single out a 
person of high renown. He had many kinsmen and 
belonged to a great tribe ; nobody would close his 
ears to Ibn Salam ’s greetings. 

Wherever he appeared, people said : ‘Look, here 
comes the good luck of Ibn Salam . . .’, and so, 
‘Good Luck’, ‘Bakht’, had become his nickname. 
A true gentleman, he was strong and generous. 
One glance at the moon, just fourteen days old, 
and he decided to conquer this shining light. Un- 
able to forget her, he thought of her ceaselessly 
on his journey home — and even more afterwards. 
Did he not have great riches ? Used as he was 
to act, he went to work, swift as the wind. 
One point only he did not consider — whether 
his wind would be welcomed by the shining 

s 6 S 

light, whether the moon would tolerate his 
embrace. . . . 

j Otherwise, this resourceful man thought of 

everything. According to custom, he at once sent a 
confidant to Layla’s parents, to ask for the fairy- 
girl’s hand in marriage. This man was briefed to 
propose, submissively like a beggar, in well cal- 
culated humility, but at the same time to offer 
presents like a king and to squander gold as if it 
were sand. 

And that is how it went. Who could have refused 
such a match-maker? But, however favourably 
father and mother listened to him, it seemed too 
early to give their final consent. Why decide today, 
when there was a tomorrow? Was it not more 
prudent to wait, since there was a chance of 
waiting ? 

They did not refuse, they just bade him tarry. 
Generously they spread the ointment of hope and 
said : 

‘What you are asking for may well be granted; 
only have a little patience. Look! This spring 
flower is not very strong — somewhat pale she is, 
somewhat too delicate. Allow her first to gain 
strength, then we shall agree with pleasure to the 
union. May this soon happen, God willing — 
inshallah. A few days more, a few less, what does 
it matter ? It will not be long before this rose-bud 
blossoms and the thorn-bush has been cleared from 
the garden gate.’ 

That was the parents’ answer ; and Ibn Salam had 
to be content and wait. 


: I 





I ET us see what was happening to 
Majnun in the meantime. The 
-J gorge in which he had chosen to 
live belonged to an area ruled by a Bedouin prince 
called Nawfal. Because of his bravery in battle he 
was called ‘Destroyer of Armies’, but though iron- 
hard in front of the enemy, he was as soft as wax in 
kindness towards his friends. A lion in war, he was 
a gazelle in love, and widely renowned in the 
country for both. 

One day this chieftain, Nawfal, rode out to hunt 
with some of his companions. The country became 
wilder and more and more desolate, but the 
hunters had eyes only for their prey, and when 
some of the light-legged antelopes and wild 
donkeys tried to escape into their hiding-places 
in the mountains, Nawfal and his friends followed 

But suddenly the mighty warrior reined in his 
horse. What was wrong ? Only a few steps ahead, 
in the semi-darkness at the entrance to a cave, two 
or three of the animals were huddled together, 
their flanks trembling — yet the hunter suddenly 


dropped his bow with the arrow on its drawn 
string. Surprised, he stared towards the grotto, 
where he noticed, behind an antelope’s back, a 
living being such as he had never encountered 

The creature was crouching against the side of 
the rock, naked, wasted, arms and legs severely 
scratched by thorns, long strands of hair falling 
over the shoulders and the hollow cheeks. Was it 
an animal or a human being, a savage or one of the 
dead — maybe a demon? But the creature was 
weeping, so all fear vanished, giving way to pity. 
The noble hunter turned in the saddle towards his 
men and asked: ‘Does anyone know who this 
unhappy creature is?’ 

N| ‘Certainly, we have heard of him’, replied 

several voices. Then one man, who seemed to 
know more about it, stepped forward and said: 
‘The youth over there has become what he is 
through his love for a woman. He is a melancholic, 
a madman, who has left the company of men and 
now lives here in the desert. Day and night he 
composes poems for his beloved. If a gust of wind 
sweeps by, or a cloud sails past in the sky, he 
believes them to be greetings from her and he 
thinks he can inhale her scent. He recites his 
poems, hoping that the wind or a cloud will carry 
them along to his beloved.’ 

‘How can he live here alone?’ asked Nawfal. 
‘Oh, people come to visit him’, said the man, 
‘some even undertake long voyages and suffer great 
hardship because they want to see him. They carry 


food and drink to him and sometimes visitors even 
offer him wine. But he eats and drinks very little, 
and if he is persuaded to sip the wine, he does so 
remembering his beloved. He thinks and acts only 
for her ! ’ 

Nawfal listened attentively and his sympathy for 
Majnun grew with every word. The hunt was 

‘In truth’, he exclaimed, ‘would it not be a 
manly deed, an act truly worthy of me, to help 
this confused, wayward fellow win his heart s 
ardent desire ?’ 

With these words he jumped from his mount — a 
thoroughbred ambling on reed-like fetlocks— 
and ordered a tent to be erected, a dining- 
table prepared and the youth brought in as his 

Everything was arranged as he demanded, and 
how amiable, how heart-stirring a host Nawfal 
could be ! But for the first time all his artful pains 
seemed to be in vain. However much he urged and 
insisted, the recluse from the mountains would not 
touch any of the tempting dishes offered to him; 
not one bite, not one sip. And the merrier the 
chieftain became, the more he talked and joked, 
the less the poet seemed to listen, the more deaf 
and blind he seemed to become. 

What was to be done ? In the end, Nawfal, who 
had given up all hope, mentioned casually the 
name which his men had revealed to him : Layla ! 

And behold, as if touched by a magic wand, the 
youth lifted his head; for the first time his eyes 

I : 

betrayed his feelings, and he repeated smilingly 
‘Layla . . nothing but Layla.’ 

Then he helped himself, ate a morsel, took a sip. 
Nawful understood. He talked about nothing but 
Layla; he praised her beauty, extolled her virtue, 
glorified her appearance, her character. 

And Majnun responded. When the Bedouin 
chieftain, with his clever tongue, wove garlands of 
flowers, the lover added the shimmering pearls of 
his poems; although invented the moment they 
were sung, they were sweet and glowing like honey 
and fire. Nawfal listened in surprise and admiration. 

! The man sitting in front of him was perhaps a 

savage, a fool — but there was no doubt that he was 
a poet, and among poets a master whose equal was 
not to be found in the whole of Arabia. 

Quietly Nawfal made up his mind to rebuild 
with wary hands, the ruin of this heart stone by 
stone. Aloud he said : 

‘You are like the butterfly, my friend, which 
flutters around in the darkness, searching for the 
light. Take care that you do not become a candle 
which, crying bitterly, consumes itself in its own 
grief. Why do you abandon hope ? Trust me and my 
wealth and the strength of my arm ; I shall balance 
the scales of your fate. I promise you, you shall 
have your Layla. Even if she became a bird, 
escaping into the sky, even if she were a spark, 
deep inside the rock, I would still find her. I shall 
neither rest nor relax until I have married you to 
I your moon-like love.’ 

When he heard these words, Majnun threw 


himself at his protector’s feet. Soon, however, he 
became doubtful again and objected: 

‘Your words fill my soul with a delicious scent, 
but how do I know whether they are more than 
words, whether they are free from deception, 
whether you will act as you speak and whether you 
are even capable of acting? You ought to know 
that her mother, her parents, will never agree to 
give her in marriage to a man such as I, to a de- 
ranged one. “What?” they will say, “Are we to 
entrust this flower to the wind ? Shall we allow a 
devil’s child to play with a ray of the moon, hand 
over our daughter to a madman ? Never !” Ah, you 
do not know these people yet as I do. Others have 
tried before to help me, but what was the use ? 
Whatever they did, however hard they tried, my 
black fate did not become any whiter. Silver was 
offered in gleaming heaps, but it did not lighten 
the dark carpet of my days. So, you can see how 
hopeless my position is. To succeed would not be a 
human achievement, it would be a miracle. But I 
fear that you will soon have enough of this kind 
of hunting and turn back halfway, before you can 
trap your prey. 

‘Be it not so. And, if you really keep your 
promise, may God reward you; but if you have 
only talked, showing me a fata Morgana , instead of 
an oasis, then, I implore you, rather tell me now 
and let me go on my way.’ 

This courageous speech strengthened Nawfal ’s 
friendly feelings towards the youth, who was of 
his own age, and he exclaimed: 


‘You doubt my word ? All right, I shall make a 
pact with you. In the name of Allah the Almighty 
and his prophet Mohammed I swear that I shall 
fight for you and your cause like a wolf, no, like a 
lion, with my sword and all my resources. 

‘I solemnly vow that I shall enjoy neither food 
nor sleep until your heart’s desire has been 
fulfilled . . . but you, in turn, must also promise 
me something — that you will show patience. Give 
up your frenzy, take your wild heart in hand, 
quieten it, tame it, if only for a few days. 

| ‘So let us seal our alliance; you damp down the 

fire in your heart, I in turn will open the iron gate 
to your treasure. Do you agree?’ 

Majnun consented. He smoothed the stormy sea 
of his soul and accepted his friends’ helping hand. 
For the first time in many months, peace returned 
to his tortured mind, the marks inflicted by the 
branding iron of his madness began to heal. He 
trusted Nawfal like a child. And as peace came to 
his heart so a change came over his whole life. 
Without a word he abandoned the cave and 
accompanied his noble patron on horseback to his 
1 camp. 

In the shade and protection of his powerful 
friend, as his confidant and guest, Majnun — by now 
no longer a ‘majnun’ — soon reverted to his old 
state as Qays, the beautiful and noble youth he had 
once been. He bathed and donned the fine gar- 
ments and the turban which Nawfal had presented 
|!j to him; he ate with pleasure, drank wine as a 

friend among friends and recited his qasidas and 





ghazels, not, as before, to the wind and the clouds, 
but to the hunters and warriors in their tents. 

Fresh colour flowed back into the yellow, 
wasted face, his bent figure became erect and he 
walked among his new companions, swaying like a 
tall reed in the wind. The flower, shorn of its 
leaves by the storm, was in bloom again. How 
greatly had he changed for the world and the world 
for him. Since his return to the dwelling-places of 
men, nature had once more acquired a lovely face 
in the mirror of his eyes. The morning’s gold- 
hemmed, festive attire delighted him as if he were 
seeing it for the first time, he joined in the midday 
laughter of the sun and had the colourful riddles of 
the roses explained to him. Yes, he had become a 
man among men again. 

Nobody was happier about this change than 
Nawfal, who had brought it about. He was like a 
rain-carrying cloud, spreading its pearly showers 
over the summer-dry earth. Every day he brought 
new presents for his recovering friend. Nothing 
was good or precious enough. Majnun had to be at 
his side all the time and Nawfal became so used to 
his company that he refused to be parted even for 
an hour. The few days which Nawfal had mentioned 
turned into as many months. Their happiness 
lasted a long time — but now thunderstorms were 
gathering on the horizon. 



O NE day Majnun and Nawfal were 
sitting together, gay and happy 
as usual. Who would have 
thought that a bitter drop could fall into the cup of 
their friendship ? Suddenly a shadow passed over 
Majnun’s face, the smile on his lips died and he 
recited these lines : 

My sighs , my bitter tears leave you unmoved! 

My griefs and sorrows do not harass you. 

Not one, not half a promise did you keep 
Of many hundreds I received from you. 

You promised tofulfl my keen desire, 

Yet you forgot to grant my sweet reward! 

Instead of damping it, you stirred the fire. 

With empty words did you seduce my heart. 

Nawfal understood the meaning only too well. 
What could he answer ? The great warrior had 
no weapon against this attack. He sat there, 
abashed, his lowered eyes sad and melancholy. 
Majnun was more than ever overwhelmed by 
the desire for his beloved. It did not matter to 
him how hard it was: Nawfal had to fulfil what 

he had promised. In great bitterness Majnun con- 
tinued : 

‘At the time when we made our covenant, your 
tongue was certainly very quick. Remember ? Why 
then do you remain silent today ? Why do you not 
offer a salve for my wounded heart ? My patience 
is at an end, my reason rebels. Help me, lest I 
perish! Or must I seek assistance from better 
friends than you ? What am I to think of you, a 
prince, who gives his word only to break it — and 
to me, friendless, weak, broken, dying of thirst 
for the water of life ! Is it not one of the command- 
ments, that one must offer water to the thirsty ? 
Stand by your promise, or the madman whom 
you lured out of the desert will return to it. Unite 
me with Layla, or I shall throw my life away.’ 



W HEN Nawfal heard his friend 
talking, his heart melted like 
wax in the flame. Without 
searching for words, where only deeds could 
count, he jumped up and went resolutely to work. 
Exchanging his robe for a suit of armour , he seized 
the sword instead of the cup and rallied a hundred 
horsemen, all skilled hunters and warriors, devoted 
to their chieftain and swift as birds of prey. 

At the head of this army he set out, Majnun 
riding at his side, spoiling for the fray like a black 
lion. After a time they reached the pastures of 
Layla’s tribe. When they could see the tents from 
afar, Nawfal ordered his men to dismount and 
pitch camp. Then he sent a herald to Layla s tribe 
with this message: 

‘I, Nawfal, have arrived with an army ready to 
fight you like an all-devouring fire. Hurry, there- 
fore, and bring Layla to me ; or the sword will have 
to decide between us. I am determined that Layla 
shall belong to the one man who is worthy of her, 
so that his longing may be stilled and his thirst 


After a while, the messenger returned with this 
reply : 

‘The way you have chosen will not lead you to 
your goal. Layla is no sweetmeat for people of your 
kind and to reach for the moon is not for every- 
one. The decision is not yours. Do you plan to steal 
the sun ? Are you asking for the comets, you 
cursed demon ? Draw your sword against us ! You 
glassbottle, we shall know how to break you!’ 
Furious, Nawfal sent a second message : 
‘Ignorant fools, you do not seem to realize how 
keen is the edge of my sword ! Once it has smitten 
you, you will never again worry about your racing 
dromedaries. Do you really think you can block the 
path of an ocean wave? Come, now! Do as you 
are told, or disaster will overtake you. . . .’ 

But once more the herald returned with a rejec- 
tion couched in abuse and derision. By now Nawfal 
was boiling with rage. He vented the red-hot fury 
of his heart in wild threats. He tore his sword out 
of its scabbard and led his men like a hungry lion 
towards the enemy camp. There also the men had 
prepared for battle. Bristling with arms they left 
the tents and soon the armies met in a terrible clash, 
like two mountains hurled at each other. 

What noise, what uproar, what turmoil ! The 
heavy breakers of battle rolled to and fro. While 
the cries of the warriors were rising to heaven, 
blood poured from their wounds into the thirsty 
sand. The swords became the cupbearers and 
filled the cups so overfull that the earth was drunk 
with purple-coloured wine. Like lion’s claws the 

spears tore breasts and limbs, the arrows drank 
the sap of life with wide open beaks like birds of 
prey; and proud heroes, heads severed from 
trunks, lay down for the sleep of eternity. 

The thundering noise roaring over the battlefield 
deafened the dome of the sky and its stars. Steel and 
stone struck sparks, like the deadly lightning of 
fate. Like black wildcats horseman set upon 
horseman — warriors crouching on their mounts as 
if riding white demons. 

Majnun alone did not take part in this massacre. 
Was not death gathering the harvest for his sake ? 
Yet he stood aside, his sword hidden in its sheath, 
though not from fear or cowardice. While each 
warrior thought of nothing but to kill the enemy 
and to defend himself, the poet was sharing the 
sufferings of both sides. Majnun was in deep 
torment. Every blow from friend or foe smote him. 
Unarmed, he threw himself into the middle of the 
fray, crying to God and to the fighting warriors for 
peace. Between the lines of battle he looked like a 
lonely pilgrim — but how could anyone take notice 
of him in such an hour ? It was a miracle that he 
remained unharmed. 

Did Majnun hope for Nawfal’s victory? Indeed 
he should, but the longer the terrible fight lasted, 
the more confused became Majnun’s heart. Had 
he not meant to die for Layla ? Yet her own people, 
men of her tribe and blood, were now being killed 
for his sake ! Killed by whom ? By Nawfal and 
Nawfal’s men, Majnun’s friends! 

Were they really his friends ? Were they not 


The battle between 
Nawfal’s men and Layla's tribe 



rather his friends’ enemies ? Thus, while the 
battle of the horsemen raged outside, another 
struggle broke out inside the poet’s soul, as bitter 
as the one in the field. 

If shame had not paralysed his arm, Majnun 
would have drawn his sword against his own side. 
But he was conscious that this would be infamous. 
In his imagination he could hear the jeering 
laughter of the enemy, had he attacked from be- 
hind those whose only thought was to help him. 

Still, if fate had permitted, he would have sent 
his arrows against those who fought Layla’s tribe. 
His heart was with the men who defied his own 
champions. His lips prayed for help for his oppon- 
ents. He longed to kiss the hand which had just 
(l un g one of Nawfal’s riders out of the saddle. 

In the end this impulse became so strong that he 
could hardly subdue it. Time and again he rejoiced 
when the enemy advanced, and became downcast 
and miserable when Nawfal’s men gained an 

Eventually one of Nawfal’s horsemen noticed 
this. He turned to Majnun, shouting: 

‘What ails you, noble mind ? Why do you enjoy 
this strife only from afar ? Why do you even show 
favour to the enemy ? Have you forgotten that we 
are risking our lives for you and for your sake ?’ 

‘If they were enemies’, Majnun replied, ‘I could 
fight them. But as these enemies are my friends, 
what shall I do ? This is no battlefield for me. The 
heart of my beloved beats for the enemy, and where 
her heart beats, there is my home. I want to die for 

my beloved, not kill other men. How then could I 
be on your side, when I have given up my self?’ 

Meanwhile Nawfal, sword in hand and con- 
stantly in the thick of battle, had striven hard for 
victory. Like the dare-devil he was, unflinching like 
a drunken elephant, he assailed time and again the 
walls of the enemy. Many of them he had struck 
down, but when the dark-blue tresses of the 
evening twilight began to throw their shadow over 
the day’s burning forehead, the battle was still un- 
decided. Soon night enveloped the fighting men. 
After the serpent of darkness had swallowed the 
last little glass pearl of light on the horizon, they 
separated, and soon none of them could see the 

There were neither victors nor vanquished. But 
on both sides many brave men had fallen and the 
number of wounded was even greater than that of 
the dead. Nevertheless Nawfal had not given up 
hope of forcing the enemy to his knees on the 
following day. But when, in the first light of the 
new morning, he was about to lead his sadly dimin- 
ished troop into battle, his scouts reported that 
during the night the enemy had been reinforced 
from other tribes. 

If Nawfal was a hero, he was not a fool ! After 
some reflection he decided on the only move still 
left to him. He sent a herald into the enemy camp 
with this message : 

‘Enough of the sword-play! Wounds have to be 
nursed; let us tread the way of peace. What I 
desired from you, and still desire, is the fairy-maid 


who could break the spell and free a bewitched 
youth from his delusion. In turn, I am prepared to 
pay you donkey-loads of treasure, and if you are 
ready to accept this proposal, your answer will 
sound much more harmonious than this my speech. 
But even if you refuse and your sugar is not for sale, 
we should nevertheless stop filling our lives with 
the sour taste of vinegar. Let the arms rest ! ’ 

The result was not unexpected. Nawfal’s sug- 
gestion that Layla should be handed over against the 
payment of a huge sum was rejected with the same 
determination as on the day before. How could it 
have been otherwise ? On the other hand there was 
no objection to a truce. No more blood was to be 
shed and Nawfal and his men returned home. 



G ONE were the beautiful days 
. when Majnun, at Nawfal’s side, 
had enjoyed life with his friends. 
The wound in the soul of our lover had opened 
again and he turned in bitterness against his 

He drew the sword of his tongue and spoke r 
‘Such then are your artful ways of uniting two 
lovers? Excellent indeed! Is that your wisdom’s 
last resort, to raid with arms and men ? Is that proof 
of your strength? Is that the key to your magic 
power ? The masterpiece of your equestrian pride ? 
Is that the way you throw the lasso ? I certainly 
never wanted that. You have only succeeded in 
making enemies of my friends. The door through 
which I intended to enter, you have barred with a 
thousand locks. My good cause you have turned to 
bad; I herewith dissolve our friendship, my friend ! 
Not the enemy — the friend has tom the thread; I 
am like the king in the game of chess, checkmated 
by his own knight ; like the shepherd’s dog, pierced 
by the arrow which his master aimed at the wolf. 
‘You may be great in your generosity, yet how 


small you are when it comes to fulfilling your 
promises. ’ 

Nawfal found it hard to stand up to such words. 
He had to cover himself with his shield and at the 
same time try to cure his wounded opponent. ‘You 
must understand’, he replied, ‘the enemy was 
superior in numbers and in arms. That is why I 
was unable to win Layla — as yet. I made peace and 
retreated. But that was a trick forced on me by 
necessity. Be sure that I shall return! I am now 
assembling an army from all the tribes around us 
and you can be certain that I shall not rest until 
I have sunk my steel into this stone, until I have 
pulled this stubborn donkey from the roof down 
to the ground ! ’ 

And Nawfal meant what he said. He sent mes- 
sengers to all the tribes from Medina to Baghdad. 
He opened wide his treasure chests ; and after he 
had assembled an army that surged from horizon 
to horizon like an ocean of iron, he went once 
more to war in order to conquer Layla for his 


O NE day, with kettledrums beat- 
ing, the steel wave of Nawfals’ 
army appeared in front of the 
tents of Layla’s tribe. Man close to man, spear next 
to spear, line after line — the whole plain was full of 
them, as far as the eye could see. The horses’ hoof- 
beats shook the earth, and the roar of the approach- 
ing host would have caused the heart of a dead man 
to tremble. 

Nevertheless the brave defenders did not lose 
heart. They were still not willing to give way to 
force, determined not to hand over Layla to the 
madman and his helpers. They preferred to die 
rather than live under such a shameful yoke. 

So battle was renewed. This time the clash 
between horses, men and arms was even more terri- 
fying than before. So wedged and locked in battle 
became friend and foe that none could dodge the 
other, nor did thrust or stroke ever miss its victim. 

Blood poured in streams from wounds and weap- 
ons as if it had to wash each grain of sand in the 
desert, and it looked as if red flowers were sud- 
denly springing up from the arid soil. 


At last the killing became too much. Even the 
most warlike hearts began to tire of inflicting pain, 
and the swords hesitated before they struck, as if 
ashamed of mowing down more and more heads. 

Nawfal, the great warrior, fought again in the 
front line. Spitting fire and destruction like a 
dragon, he cut a man’s life-thread with every 
breath, and step by step, smashed the rocklike 
enemy to pieces. What his club hit was certain to 
be crushed — even if it had been the mighty Elburz 
mountain; and whoever ventured within range 
of his sword had the book of his fate closed for all 

Even before night could cover this bloodthirsty 
drama, the day had granted the flame of victory to 
Nawfal’s men. The enemy retreated. Layla’s tribe 
was defeated, many were killed, many wounded or 
near dead from exhaustion. 

As a sign of submission and mourning, the elders 
sprinkled earth on their heads and started, as soon 
as the weapons fell silent, on the bitter path to the 
victor’s tent. In front of Nawfal’s threshold, they 
kissed the earth and lamented : 

‘You, Lord and Master, are the victor. We, your 
enemies, have been defeated — dead or alive. Now 
let justice prevail. Do not refuse peace to a few 
survivors ! Allow us resurrection after our fall and 
remember that one day we shall all be faced with 
another resurrection. Put your sword back into its 
sheath ; you no longer need it against the defence- 
less men who are lying here at your feet asking 
forgiveness. Let spears and arrows rest! Look, we 

have thrown away our shields and entrust our fate 
to your hands.’ 

Hearing the elders speak thus, Nawfal was 
moved by their grief. He too was ready to bury the 
past and granted the truce they requested without, 
however, forgetting to demand his price. ‘Bring 
me the bride and that at once’, he ordered, ‘then I 
shall be satisfied and leave you alone, you and your 
tribe. * 

No sooner had he given this order, than a single 
man stepped out of the crowd of defeated tribes- 
men. It was Layla’s father, bent low by sorrow. In 
great humility he knelt before the victorious Naw- 
fal, buried his forehead in the dust and filled the big 
tent with lamentation. 

‘Great Prince among the Arabs’, he began, Took 
at me, an old man, broken-hearted, beaten down 
by disaster, and prostrate before you. The Arabs 
are heaping blame and infamy upon me, as if I were 
a homeless stranger, and when I think of the 
streams of blood which have been shed for my sake, 
I wish I could become a drop of quicksilver and 
escape from such disgrace. ... It is now your task 
to pronounce judgment. If you leave me my 
daughter, you can be certain of my gratitude. If 
you are determined to kill her — do! Cut her to 
pieces, bum her, drown her; I shall not rebel 
against your decision. 

‘One answer alone I will not accept ; never shall 
I give Layla to this demon, this Majnun, a madman 
who should be tied with iron bands, not with 
nuptial bonds. Who, after all, is he ? A fool, a 

common muddle-head, a vagrant and homeless 
tramp, who roams mountains and steppes. And 
what has he ever achieved ? Shall I sit down with a 
vile versifier who has sullied my good name — and 
his own ? There is not one corner in the whole of 
Arabia where my daughter’s name is not bandied 
about on everyone’s lips — and I should give her to 
him who is the cause of all this? My name would be 
infamous for ever. Do not demand the impossible ! 
Woe to us if you insist ! I swear to God that I would 
rather cut off her head with my own hands and 
feed this moonlike bride to the dogs — to save my 
honour and to live in peace. . . . Better that the 
dogs should devour her than this demon in human 
shape. Better they than he ! ’ 

For a moment this daring speech and its terrible 
threat silenced Nawfal. But in his heart he forgave 
the old man and answered without rancour : 

‘Stand up ! Even though I am the victor, I want 
you to give me your daughter only if you are 
willing. A woman taken by violence is like a slice 
of dry bread and a salty sweet.’ 

Thus he responded to Layla’s father and it soon 
became clear that his confidants, who were present, 
agreed with him. It was Majnun’s own doing. Had 
he not, during the first battle, taken the side of the 
enemy and in his heart become a traitor to his 
friends ? 

The horseman who had observed and then spoken 
to Majnun, now turned to Nawfal and said : 

‘The old man is right. This fool is full of impure 
hist. Rebellion dominates his mind and he is in no 


way fit to marry. He is unstable and completely 
unreliable. Didn’t we fight to the death for his 
sake ? Yet he hoped that the enemy would win. 
Haven’t we, on his behalf, offered our bodies as a 
target for their arrows ? Meanwhile he blessed 
these arrows behind our backs ! Is that the way for 
a man in his senses to behave ? He cries and laughs 
without rhyme or reason. Even if he should win 
his beloved, fate would not favour their union. . . . 
He is full of faults and you, Nawfal, will come to 
feel ashamed that you once helped him. Better to 
be content with the shame and honour we have 
already won and wash our hands of this affair.’ 

This turned the scale. What was Nawfal to do ? 
Although defeated, Layla’s father remained inexor- 
able. And Nawfal’s own men supported him! 
Nawfal could not even blame them. Did not 
doubts prey upon his own mind ? Was there not 
truth in what Layla’s father and Nawfal’s men 
said ? 

Nawfal decided to forgo the price of victory and 
gave order to break camp. 



T HEY had not gone far before 
Majnun turned his horse towards 
Nawfal. His eyes streaming with 
tears, he boiled over with rage like a volcano. 

‘Faithless friend’, he shouted, ‘you let my hopes 
ripe into a radiant dusk and now you push me into 
the daylight of despair. Why, tell me, did your 
hand drop its prey ? What has happened to this 
arm once ready to help me ? When I was thirsty 
you led me to the banks of the Euphrates, but 
before I could drink you dragged me back into my 
desert hell. You brought sugar out of your box to 
make sherbet, but you did not offer it to me. You 
placed me in front of a table laden with sweetmeats, 
and then you chased me away like a fly ! 

‘As you never intended to let me have my 
treasure, it would have been better not to show it 
to me. . . .* Majnun turned his horse without 
waiting for an answer and galloped into the pathless 
wilderness, away from Nawfal and his friends. He 
disappeared from their sight like a cloud which 
consumes itself, like the rain of tears which fell 
from his eyes, leaving no trace in the sand. 

9 o 

When Nawfal had returned to his hunting 
grounds and there was still no sign of Majnun, he 
went with a few men to look for him. He was 
devoted to his friend and anxious to comfort him, 
but in spite of long and strenuous efforts, they 
could find no trace of Majnun. It was as if his name 
had been erased from the book of life, and Nawfal 
began to fear that he had lost his friend for ever. 



^FTER he had left Nawfal, Majnun 
sped away on his horse like a 
bird without a nest — far into the 
desert, only the wind as his companion. Singing to 
himself about Nawfal’s unfaithfulness, he told his 
unhappy fate to the half-effaced traces of abandoned 
resting-places and camp-fires. 

Suddenly he discovered some dots moving in the 
distance. When he came nearer he found a strange 

group confronting him. Two gazelles had been 
caught in snares and a hunter was just about to kill 
the poor creatures with his dagger. 

‘Let these animals go free!’ shouted Majnun, ‘I 
am your guest and you can’t refuse my request. 
Remove the nooses from their feet! Is there not 
room enough in this world for all creatures ? What 
have these two done that you are bent on killing 
them ? Or are you a wolf, not a human being, that 
you want to take the burden of such a sin upon 
yourself ? Look how beautiful they are ! Are their 
eyes not like those of the beloved? Does their 
sight not remind you of the spring ? Let them go 
free, leave them in peace! These necks are too 

good for your steel, these breasts and thighs are not 
meant to be devoured, these backs, which have never 
carried any burden, are not destined for your fire ! ’ 
Never before had the hunter heard anything like 
this. His mouth opened in astonishment, then he 
began to chew one of his fingers. Finally, when he 
had regained his composure, he replied: 

‘I have heard what you said. But look, I am poor, 
otherwise I would gladly obey you. This is the first 
catch I have made for two months. I have a wife and 
children: do you expect me to spare the animals 
and let my family starve ?’ 

Without a word Majnun jumped out of the saddle 
and handed the reins of his horse to the hunter who, 
well content with the exchange, mounted and rode 
away, leaving Majnun alone with the two gazelles. 
Gently kissing their eyes Majnun sang: 

Dark as the night, like hers, jour eyes! 

What 1 have lostjou can t return. 

Thej waken memories that burn, 

Sad happiness and jojful sighs. 

Blessing the animals he freed them from their 
fetters and watched them disappear towards the 
horizon. Then he continued on his way, only much 
slower, bent under the weight of his grief and his 
few possessions. The sand scorched his feet and the 
sun blazed down on his head. His brain seemed to 
boil, thorns tore his garments; but he did not seem 
to notice and pursued his way until night covered 
day with a blue-black shroud and the moon rose, 
borrowing its lustre from the sun. 


Only then did the lonely wanderer halt. He 
crept into a cave groaning like a lizard which has 
been bitten by a serpent, and scattered the pearls 
of his tears into the tresses of darkness. Sighing, 
he crouched under the rock and read page after 
page from the book of his life, whose leaves were 
as black as the hours of the night which dwindled 
away without allowing him any sleep. 



W HEN the morning, lighting up 
the world, unfolded its ban- 
ner and the sun, rising in 
China, ascended in the sky, the nocturnal ghosts 
released Majnun’s mind. Like smoke rising from 
the fire he emerged from his hiding-place and 
continued on his way, composing poems and sing- 
ing them aloud to himself. 

Towards evening he came upon another hunter 
who had caught a stag in his snares and was about to 
kill it. Majnun ran quickly towards him and shouted, 
his voice as sharp as the spike of a bloodletter : 
‘You hyena of a tyrant! Torturer of the weak 
and the defenceless ! Release this poor creature at 
once so that it may still enjoy its life for a short 
while. How will the hind feel tonight without her 
companion ? What would she say if she could talk 
with a human tongue ! She would exclaim : ‘ ‘May 
he who has done this to us, suffer as we do; may 
he never see another happy day! ...” Would you 
like that ? Do you not fear the distress of those who 
suffer? Imagine yourself as the stag — the stag as 
the hunter and you as his victim !’ 


‘It is not important to kill the stag’ , replied the 
trapper, ‘what matters to me is to sustain my own 
life. I have caught the animal, but if you wish, I 
am willing to sell it to you.’ 

Majnun had no treasure, but he was still carrying 
a few things which Nawfal had given him. He laid 
them at the feet of the hunter who was well satisfied 
with the bargain. Loading them on to his shoulders 
he said farewell and left the stag with Majnun. 

When he had gone, Majnun approached the 
animal as gently as a father his child. Stroking and 
caressing it he said : 

‘Like myself, are you not also separated from 
your beloved ? Quick-footed runner of the steppes, 
dweller of the mountains, how vividly you remind 
me of her! Go, hurry, search for her, your mate. 
Rest in her shadow — there is your place. And if in 
your wanderings you should pass Layla’s tent, 
perhaps even encounter her, give her this message 
from me : 

I am jours, however distant jou maj he l 

Your sorrow, whenjou grieve, brings grief to me. 

There blows no wind but wafts jour scent to me, 

There sings no bird but calls jour name to me. 

Each memorj that has lft its trace with me 

Lingers for ever, as if part of me. 

‘Tell her that, my friend !’ 

With these words Majnun removed the noose 
from the legs of the stag and set it free while, high 
above, the caravan of the night went on its way and 
in the eastern sky the moon emerged from the 


darkness. Foaming like the waters of the Nile, the 
Milky Way seemed to flow across this celestial 
Egypt — while Majnun, left alone, looked up to the 
sky like a bird with clipped wings, erect like a 
candle which stands upright as it burns away. 


T HE dawn of a new day spread its 
radiant yellow light between the 
spokes of heaven’s night-blue 
wheel, while the awakening sun painted fresh red 
roses on the horizon. But Majnun was like a 
flower in autumn. Beaten down by grief and 
exhaustion his head drooped and when, towards 
noon, the sun shot its arrows at him, he was happy 
to find a small oasis where, under some palm trees, 
a spring was bubbling and a pool invited the 
wanderer to rest. Water and greenery and shade! 
This place, thought Majnun, is like a comer of 
Paradise which has fallen down to earth; like an 
image of the fields around the celestial lake 

Having drunk his fill, he lay down on the brocade 
carpet of soft grass in the shade of the palm trees 
to rest awhile. 

Soon the tired man was wrapped in peaceful 
slumber. Time passed unnoticed. When he woke, 
the sun was already low in the west. He had the 
feeling that someone had been staring at him. But 
who ? No living soul was visible, far or near. 





By chance, his eye fell on the crown of the date- 
palm in whose shade and protection he had rested. 
There, in the green trelliswork of the fan-shaped 
branches, he saw a black shadow: a big raven 
squatted motionless, staring at Majnun, eyes glow- 
ing like lamps. 

Dressed in mourning, he is a wanderer like my- 
self, thought Majnun, and in our hearts we probably 
feel the same. Aloud he said to the bird : 

‘Blackfrock, for whom are you mourning ? Why 
this sombre colour of the night in the light of day ? 
Are you burning in the fire of my grief, or have I 
disguised my soul with your blackness ?’ 

When the raven heard the voice, he hopped on to 
another branch without taking his eyes off Majnun 
who continued: 

‘If you, like myself, belong to those whose hearts 
have been burned, why do you shim me ? Or are 
I # you a Khatib, who on Fridays preaches from the 

pulpit of a mosque ? Is that why you are wearing 
this sombre garb ? Or are you a negro watchman ? 
If so, whom do you fear ? Perhaps I am a shah and 
you are my princely protector ? Heed not ! If, in 
your flight, you happen to see my beloved, tell her 
this from me : 

Help me, oh help me in my loneliness ! 

Lonely my light fades in the wilderness . 

‘Be not afraid, for I am yours’ , you said, 

Do not delay — lest you should find me dead. 

Caught by the wolf, the lamb hears all too late 
The shepherd’s fute lament its cruel fate. 


Dying from thirst, I search the sly in vain — 

Too late the cloud that brings the saving rain. 

As Majnun recited these lines, the raven flut- 
tered farther and farther away until he finally took 
wing from the crown of the palm tree, vanishing 
into the fading light, which seemed to swallow 
him up. 

It was no longer day, but not yet night: the 
hour of the bats’ awakening. The darkness grew 
until it was as black as a raven’s plumage. What a 
giant raven this night was. When its wings were 
spread they reached right across the sky and yellow 
ravens’ eyes stared down on Majnun as before, only 
now there were thousands of them, great and 
small, a countless multitude. 

To hide from their gaze, Majnun covered his 
face with his hands, and wept bitterly. 

f XXV 




W HEN the light of the morning 
pushed its head through the 
curtain of the night, the old 
world came to life afresh in every creature’s eyes — 
like a new garden. 

Majnun could no longer endure to be so far from 
his beloved. He hurried along as if he had grown 
raven’s wings overnight, or like a butterfly rushing 
through the darkness towards the flame which it 
seeks to encircle. 

The closer he came to his goal, the more his heart 
became drunk with Layla’s scent, the louder his 
ears perceived the sound of her voice, the clearer 
his eyes recognized her face in mountains and 

All strength seemed to have gone from his limbs 
and he had to take rest ; he was like a man who has 
dwelt for a long time among the dead and now with 
every breath, with every sigh, feels the stream of 
life slowly returning. 

While he sat there, two strange figures ap- 
proached. A woman dragged a man behind her — 
his hair and beard dishevelled, his limbs weighed 



down by iron chains so heavy that he could hardly 
walk; he looked and behaved as if out of his senses, 
and the woman tugged constantly on the rope, 
hurrying him along like an ox or a donkey. 

Majnun, deeply shocked, felt pity for the poor 
man. He implored the woman not to use her 
prisoner so roughly and asked: ‘Who is this man ? 
What has he done that you drag him around chained 
like that ?’ 

‘Do you want to hear the truth ? ’ said the woman. 
‘All right then. He is neither crazy nor a criminal. 

I am a widow and he is a dervish, both of us have 
suffered great hardship. We are both ready to do 
anything if only we can fill purse and belly. That 
is why I decided to parade him in chains, hoping 
that people would think him mad and give us food 
and alms out of charity. What we receive, we divide 
fairly between us. ’ 

When Majnun heard these words, he went down 
on his knees and beseeched her : 

‘Relieve this man of his chains and put them on 
me. I am one of those unhappy men with a distur- 
bed mind, I should be tied up — not he. Take me 
with you as long and wherever you wish and every- 
thing that is given to us shall be yours. 

The old woman did not wait to be told twice. 
Quickly she freed the dervish from his chains, 
tying up Majnun in his stead. He was as pleased as 
if she had caressed him and she walked on happily, 
leading her new victim by the rope. 

Whenever the woman and her prisoner came to a 
tent, they stopped : Majnun recited his love poems, 

1 02 

cried out ‘Layla . . . Layla . . banged head and 
body against the stones, and, in spite of his chains, 
danced around like a drunken madman, while the 
woman punished him. 

One day they came to an oasis where a few tents 
had been erected. Looking at them more closely, 
Majnun suddenly recognized Layla’s tent among 
them. Tears began to stream from his eyes like 
floods of rainwater pouring from the clouds in 
spring. He collapsed, hit his head against the 
ground and called out: 

‘You have left me to myself, sharing with me 
nothing but your grief. Look, I am doing penance 
because I made you and your people suffer under 
the hands of Nawfal. As a punishment I have given 
up my freedom. Shackled I stand before you, a rope 
around my neck, waiting to be chastised. I know 
I have sinned, and my sin is so great that it can 
never be forgiven. 

‘I am your prisoner; you be my judge. Condemn 
me ! Punish me as severely as you like. ... It is my 
fault that your people have suffered. In expiation I 
am beating my body with my own hands. Yesterday 
I committed my crime, today I have returned in 
chains to suffer torture from you. Kill me, but do 
not reject me in my misery. How can I plead inno- 
cence in front of you ? You are loyal, even when you 
have abandoned loyalty; I am guilty, even when I 
am innocent. 

‘In life, your greetings did not reach me, and 
your hands did not stroke my hair. But now there 
is hope. Maybe you will look at me while you kill 

me with your arrow, and then put your hand on 
my head? Maybe you will draw your sword, 
allowing me to rest my head on your threshold 
like an animal to be sacrificed ? I will be as 
trusting as Ismael before Abraham! Why should 
I be afraid, if it is you who cuts off my head ? 
My heart burns like a candle — if you cut the 
wick, it burns even brighter! As long as I am alive 
there is no way that could lead me to you; save 
yourself, therefore, save me from myself, and let 
me rest at your feet in eternal peace.’ 

Majnun could say no more. With a loud cry he 
flew from the ground like an arrow, his face insanely 
contorted. Raving as if possessed by a demon, he 
seized his chains in both hands, and, in a super- 
human effort, tore them apart; striking himself in 
the face, he raced away from the old woman, from 
Layla’s tent, from all human beings — towards the 
mountainous wastes of Najd. 

His parents, his relatives and friends, were told. 
They had already heard what had happened to him 
during the last weeks and months. Some searched 
for him, but when they found him in one of his 
hiding-places in the mountains, they realized that 
the past, apart from Layla’s name and memory, had 
been extinguished from his mind. As soon as they 
tried to talk of anything else, he fell silent, or 
escaped, withdrawing into himself, as if drunk with 
sleep. These attempts only excited him, but led 
nowhere, and so, in the end, even his father and 
mother had to abandon hope that he would ever 
recover and return to them. 


W HAT, in the meantime, had 
happened to Layla ? Hear 
what the deep-sea diver sound- 
ing the ocean of the soul has to tell you ! 

Layla soon learned of Nawfal ’s victory — and it 
was her father who told her. He came rushing into 
the tent, covered in dust and blood, battered and 
exhausted, his turban awry. 

Yet, he did not look like a man in need of com- 
fort after shameful defeat. He was tired, but his 
eyes shone with satisfaction and his voice sounded 
triumphant. ‘What a master-stroke’, he said 
proudly, ‘I have managed to tame this man Nawfal 
with my tongue, after his sword had beaten us ! 
I have escaped disaster by the breadth of a hair ! This 
maniac, this Majnun, almost forced his way in — 
and then, what would have happened? Now 
Nawfal, who fought in God’s name and won — may 
heaven reward him — has withdrawn. We are 

Layla had to listen, although her heart was 
almost breaking with grief ; but while her father and 
other people were present, she dared not show it. 



Secretly she wept and suffered and, when the 
night hid her from prying eyes, she allowed her 
tears to fall freely until her sleepless eyes were red- 
rimmed like those of the narcissus. 

Her parents’ home had become her prison. 
Guarding the secret of her love, which must not 
be revealed, she lived like a serpent, unable to find 
a way out of a tightly fastened bag. She waited, 
listening to the wind, as it lovingly caressed the 
tent, hoping it might bring a message from her 

Meanwhile, Majnun’s poems extolling Layla’s 
beauty and recounting the story of their love had 
spread among the tribes, and noble suitors came 
from far and near to try their luck. One offered 
land, another sheep, yet another gold; full of 
desire, they used every trick and art of persuasion 
to reach their goal. 

But, whatever treasures they had to offer, no 
matter how strongly they insisted, flattered and 
implored, Layla’s father remained unmoved. With 
great care, he protected the glass so that no stone 
should break it, and barred the door which led to 
the girl with the silvery limbs. 

When he was present, Layla drank the wine of 
gaiety — when he turned his hack, she ate the bread 
of grief. She was a candle which smiles through 
tears, a rose which hides her thorns, a lame girl 
supported by the arms of her parents, who thought 
she was walking unaided. 

Ibn Salam had, of course, also heard about the 
hordes of suitors perilously encircling his promised 


jewel. His impatience and desire became inflamed 
by fear until he could stand it no longer. He 
equipped a caravan worthy of a king. With 
donkey-loads of amber, musk, jewels and sweet- 
meats of all kinds, he started off, hoping to con- 
quer the treasure with treasures. He scattered 
gold coins among the people like so many grains of 
sand, and his camels, buried under the load of 
silken garments, looked like walking hills of 

When he arrived, Ibn Salam allowed himself and 
his men two days of rest, then he sent his mediator 
to Layla’s family. This man was a master of his art. 
He could weave a magic spell with words, and 
make a stone melt with shame. So great was his 
eloquence that, like the Messiah, he could have 
breathed life into a corpse. 

Layla’s father could not resist such determined 
assault; and even less, when the orator with 
infectious enthusiasm displayed before delighted 
eyes treasures from the towns of Araby, from 
China and Byzantium as presents, using the key of 
his sweet tongue to open the lock which was already 
giving way. 

‘Consider’, he said to Layla’s father, ‘what kind 
of a man is this Ibn Salam, a knight like a lion, 
backbone of any army, pride of the Arabs! Not 
only his sword, but untold numbers of men obey 
him; wherever he goes, his name races ahead of 
him, and his honour is without a flaw. If it must be, 
he will shed blood like water and gold like sand. 
Who would not accept such a mighty warrior as 


his son-in-law ? If you are in need of reliable men — 
he will find them. If you are in need of protection — 
he will grant it.’ 

Like rain in springtime, which never seems to 
stop, the words poured over Layla’s father, who 
had hardly a chance to open his mouth. What 
J could he do, what could he say ? Had he not 

already promised his daughter to Ibn Salam ? True, 
I he would have preferred to wait even longer; 

j: events still went too fast for him. Yet, however 

j much he turned and twisted, searching for excuses 

f — as a man, surprised by the enemy, searches for 

T his arms — his skilled opponent drove him into a 

corner with the sword of his tongue, until, in the 
end, he had to surrender, handing over his moon 
into the jaws of the dragon. 

The day of the marriage was fixed. When it 
dawned, and the sun covered the shoulders of the 
night with her prayer-mat, woven from early 
light — just as one bedecks the shoulders of a 
bridegroom — Layla’s father went to work. Ibn 
Salam, his entourage and the other guests were led 
into the festival tent, where everything had been 
sumptuously prepared for their reception. As is 
the Arabian custom, the guests were sitting to- 
gether, admiring the bride’s presents, throwing a 
tufan of silver coins into the air, enjoying choice 
delicacies and weaving new ties between the 
families on either side, talking and joking, in 
laughter and gaiety. 

And Layla? The women, while adorning the 
rooms, burning scented aloe wood and sprinkling it 


with sugar, never noticed the bride’s tears, bitter 
as rosewater and hot as fire. Among all these gay 
people, Layla alone was sad. Never had she been so 
lonely, so desperate. Was not everything now lost ? 
How close she and Majnun had been to their goal ! 
But the goblet had cracked just as their lips touched 
its rim. 

Nobody here had an inkling of what was happen- 
ing in Layla’s heart. Who notices the thorn which 
makes you limp when you try to run ? A lame foot 
does not obey orders. Those who rebel against 
their own tribe, lose the tribe. A finger bitten by a 
snake must be cut off. Life is built on the harmony 
of all its elements ; when this harmony is disturbed, 
death moves into the breach. And however much 
people enjoyed her beauty, Layla carried death in 
her soul. 



N EXT morning, when, with all 
resplendent stars aboard, the 
vessel of the night had speeded 
down the Tigris river of the sky and the sun once 
more pitched her shining tent on the blue meadow, 
Ibn Salam, too, gave his caravan the signal to start. 
How happy he was. He had left his treasures behind, 
and his beasts of burden were returning without 
their loads, but what did all the treasures of 
Arabia mean to him beside the jewel which he had 
won ? 

He had a litter prepared for Layla — richer out- 
side, or softer within none could be imagined. 
Carried by camels, honoured and served like a 
princess, she made the journey from the tents of 
her tribe to those in the realm of her husband. 

When they arrived Ibn Salam said to her : 
‘Everything you can see is yours. My possessions 
are yours, my Kingdom is yours.’ 

But how did Layla reward him for his kindness ? 
Well, the days passed and the shadow which had 
begun to cloud the happiness in his heart increased 
and darkened. Who would feel differently if the 




woman of his passionate desire refused to share his 
bed when, after long pursuit, he had finally won 
her and brought her home as his wife ? Ibn Salam 
was left with nothing but hope and patience. 
Waiting from night to night, he tried, during the 
day, to read every wish in the eyes of his beloved, 
yet, when darkness fell, he was left once more 
sleepless and alone. 

Why? he thought; is she not my wife? Why 
should I not take what is mine ? Long enough have I 
tried to melt this wax with kindness- — perhaps force 
will achieve what is refused to gentleness ? 
Perhaps that is what she expects. 

Action followed thought. Ibn Salam stretched 
out his hands towards the garden, determined to 
pluck from the palm tree the date which was not 
granted willingly. 

But alas! Instead of the fruit he felt the thorn, 
instead of sweetness he tasted bitter gall. Before he 
even knew what was happening to him, the gardener 
hit him so hard that he went nearly deaf and blind. 

‘If you try once more’, said Layla, ‘you will 
regret it for your sake and for mine. I have sworn 
an oath to my creator that I will not give in to you. 
You can shed my blood with your sword, but you 
cannot take me by force.’ 

Ibn Salam was deeply in love with Layla — there- 
fore he gave in to her wish. He said to himself: 
‘Even is she does not love me, I would rather be 
allowed to look at her than not to possess her at 
all. As it is, I can at least glance at her from time to 
time, otherwise I would lose her for good.’ 

He went ever further and, like a poor sinner, 
humbled himself, asking forgiveness for having tried 
to use force. 

‘My heart is content, even if I am only allowed 
to look at you. I would be a common thief if I 
asked for more.’ 

So it was, and so it remained. 

While Ibn Salam ’s eyes searched for Layla, hers 
looked only for Majnun, or for a sign from him. 
Might not a breath of wind bring a speck of dust 
from his mountain cave ? As if drunk, Layla would 
sometimes take two or three steps, stumbling to 
the entrance of the tent. There her soul, sadder 
than a thousand love-songs, would escape for a 
j while, so that she could forget herself. She lived 

only in thoughts of Majnun, hoping for a message 
I from him. 

1 12 




M EANWHILE, Majnun was like a 
man who leaves the ruins of 
his home and village and, 
never settling down, wanders from place to place, 
alone but for the echo of his grief. 

A year had passed since Layla’s marriage to Ibn 
Salam, and still Majnun had not even heard of it. 
He was a wanderer who did not see where he was 

going, drunk with the wafting scent of love; the 
scent of a whole springtime is as nothing compared 
with it. Melancholia had coloured his body amber 
yellow and against such illness there grows on earth 
no healing herb. 

One evening, Majnun was again lying exhausted 
in the desert under a blossoming thorn-bush. 
Thoms and blossoms were only a blur before his 
burning eyes. He neither saw nor heard the rider 
who, travelling through the dusk of the steppe on 
his tired camel, came nearer and nearer, like a 

poisonous snake, stealthily stalking its victim. 

The rider, whose skin was black as a negro’s, had 
espied the man lying under the thom-bush, and 
realized who he was. A few steps away he halted 

1 14 

his mount and scathing words penetrated Majnun’s 
unhappy ears, like the voice of a demon. 

‘Oho, you there, who does not know what is 
i going on in the world, you idolater ! Truly it would 

I be better for you to turn your back on your 

beloved. Do you still expect her to be faithful to 
,s you ? You fool! Do you still hope for light, where 

there is darkness ? What, from afar, seems to you 
j a shining beacon, is a delusion. You are acting 

p stupidly. A mistress like yours is worse than 

I none. !’ 

r Then the stranger shouted even more harshly: 

‘She deceives you, don’t you understand? The 
woman to whom you have entrusted your heart, 

I has handed it over to the enemy. Your seed has 

| been scattered to the wind, and Layla has forgotten 

you. She has been given in marriage to another man, 
, and, believe me, she did not refuse him. Oh no ! 

Every night she sleeps in his arms : she thinks only 
of kissing and making love and swoons in sensual 
pleasure while you torture and exhaust yourself, 
i Is that right ? Look at the abyss which separates 

you! Do as she does. Think of her no longer, just 
as she no longer thinks of you ! ’ 

( And ever deeper the black devil buried his 
poison fang in Majnun’s soul: 

‘Did you believe her to be the one and only 
among thousands, different from all others ? Ha ! 

■ \ That is what women are like, fickle and faithless 
. from beginning to end. One like all, and all like 
one. For a while she looks upon you as a hero, and 
then, all at once, you are nobody. True, they are 

full of passion, even more than we, but they pursue 
only their own selfish interests. Women are 
cheats ! There is deceit and hypocrisy in everything 
they do. Never trust a woman! She will repay you 
with torture. And rightly so ! A man who believes 
in women’s fidelity, is even more stupid than she 
who makes him suffer. What, after all, is a woman ? 
A dustbin of falsity and viciousness; peace, when 
you look at her from outside, and turmoil within. 
As your enemy she stirs up trouble with the whole 
world, as your friend she corrupts your soul. If 
you tell her : ‘Do this ! ’ — it is certain that she will 
not. If you say, ‘Don’t do it!’ — she will risk her 
life to do it. Happy when you suffer, she is eaten 
by grief when you rejoice. That is woman’s way, 
that and even worse. Remember!’ 

So the black-faced one spoke, and there arose a 
moan of despair from the bottom of Majun’s heart. 
Like a bird dropping out of the sky fatally wounded, 
Majnun’s head dropped, striking the stones so 
hard that his spurting blood coloured the earth 
red. His body, in tattered rags, twisted and writhed. 
Then his soul spread its nightwings and fled ; mer- 
cifully a faint veiled his limbs. 

The rider watched. Whether man or demon — 
he was seized by pity. Ashamed and no longer proud 
of the magic power of his words, he jumped from 
the saddle and waited near the thorn-bush until 
the lover’s soul returned to his wretched body. 
Then he broke into a thousand pleas for forgive- 

‘Listen to me’, he clamoured, ‘listen; what I 

just told you was a lie, a wicked lie. A bad joke it 
was, nothing more. I have turned the truth inside 
out. Layla has not deceived nor betrayed you, nor 
has she forgotten you. Broken-hearted, her face 
veiled, she suffers behind the curtain of her tent — 
longing for you. Her husband ? Is he really her 
husband, he with whom she has never yet shared 
her bed ? Although married to him, she has re- 
mained faithful to you, Majnun. She has no one 
else in this world, and not a moment passes when 
she does not think of you a hundred times. More 
than a year has gone by since her marriage and still 
Layla, chaste as ever, lives only in her love for 
you. . . . What is a year, after all ? If a hundred, 
even a thousand, years separated you — it is in- 
conceivable that Layla would ever 

Majnun listened to these words. Were they 
true ? Certainly they soothed the agony of his heart. 
At last he could weep, and the tears streaming down 
his worn face into the dust made him look like a 
bird with broken wings. He had nowhere on earth 
to rest his head ; even the verses which came from 
his lips were lost, like his tears, because she, for 
whom they were meant, was far away. 

forget Maj- 


M AJNUN was shaken to the depths 
of his being. Before his eyes he 
saw the dream face of his 
beloved ; the flame of his longing tempted him to 
join her. He stumbled on his way like a bird 
dragging its wings in the dust. His grief had made 
him as iight as a hair, and it was hard to believe 
that there was a breath of life left in his body. 
Desperately longing to speak to Layla, but unable 
to reach her, he engaged the wind as his messenger, 
and many were the verses he sent to her. 

The wind obligingly carried his lines away, but 
response there was none. Bitter is the wine of lonely 
love, yet, if sometimes in his grief Majnun doubted 
Layla, his own passion did not abate. So he went on 
singing : 

You torture me to death, jet while I live 
Your beautj makes me lovejou and forgive, 

I am the lamp,jou are the sun — jour might 
Conquers triumphantlj mj waning light. 

Your radiant ejes the f re envies jou, 

Tulips and roses Jade when meeting jou. 

1 1 8 

Be parted? Never! Kneeling I corf ess 
Love and devotion, faitlful unto death. 
Tormented / endure, resigned, jour blows: 
Yours, if I die , will be the blood that flows. 


I T is a long time since we have spoken 
of Majnun’s father, the old Sayyid. 
Had he not done everything that a 
father could do for his son ? In his grief he was like 
Jacob after Joseph had been taken from him ; but 
Jacob had other sons ; not so the Sayyid. 

Age and sorrow had bent his back. He could 
clearly see his fate, as black as a negro, who never 
becomes a white tartar though he be washed ever 
so often. For days and nights he sat in a corner of 
his tent, waiting for the sign of departure to his 
last resting-place. He knew only too well that it 
could not be long delayed and that the signposts 
erected for him were ‘Old Age’, ‘Weakness’ and 
‘Sorrow’. There was only one tie still binding him 
to this earth. He was not afraid of death, but he did 
not want to leave without setting eyes on his child 
for the last time. Earthly possessions meant little 
to him, but to leave them to a stranger instead of 
his son pained him. He was determined to seek out 
Majnun, to talk to him once more, and perhaps — 
who knows ? — rescue his soul from its obsession, 
to tear his heart from the desert. 

This hope gave the old man greater strength than 
one would have thought possible. Again he set out 
for Majnun’s sake, his tired body supported by a 
staff, accompanied by two youths from his tribe, 
and confident that the Almighty would come to 
his aid. 

He traversed vast plains, scorched by the heat of 
the sun, he crossed lonely mountain passes beneath 
towering peaks ; his feet sank into oceans of sand, 
he rested in the green island shade of many an 
oasis and hopefully asked every passing stranger 
for news of his lost son. For a long time his search 
was fruitless. At last, when his feet would carry 
him no longer, a Bedouin said to him : 

‘Majnun ? I know where he is ! A terrible spot, a 
place of anguish, a cave in the desert like a tomb, 
right in the flames of Hell. . . . Don’t go there !’ 
But the old man insisted and, after a last day’s 
journey, reached his goal. His goal ? One would not 
wish anybody to find himself in a place so 
deserted, so bleak and harrowing that it made the 
heart quail — there he found his son. 

Was this really his son ? This creature hardly 
resembling a human being, a living skeleton, almost 
beyond this world, secluded like a hermit, im- 
mersed in idolatry, separated by only a hair’s 
breadth from the land of death, with the flail 
already swinging over his head. He moved on all 
fours over the ground like an animal; or was he 
perhaps already one of those ghosts from the lower 
regions who appear and vanish in many strange 
shapes ? Then again he writhed like a serpent, 

I 2 I 

I 20 

bare-headed, naked, except for a scrap of leather 
round his loins. 

His perturbed spirit had left the ruin of his 
body, and dwelt so far away that he did not even 
recognize the visitor. When the old Sayyid set eyes 
on his son, he fell on his knees, overwhelmed by 
love and sorrow. He laid his hand on the unhappy 
boy’s head; tenderly he caressed his hair and his 
forehead, while tears, like rain, streamed down 
his cheeks. Then only did Majnun lift his eyes. He 
looked at his father — yet did not see him. Who 
was this ? Someone weeping ! Weeping — for whom ? 
Majnun stared into his father’s face without 
recognizing him. He had forgotten himself. How 
then could he remember anyone else ? He turned 
his head and murmured : 

‘Who are you ? What do you want with me ? 
Where do you come from ?’ 

The old man replied: ‘I have been looking for 
you all the time.’ 

When Majnun heard this voice, he suddenly 
recognized his father. Putting his head on the old 
man’s knee, he sobbed uncontrollably, then they 
fell into each other’s arms, weeping and kissing, 
again and again ; for a long time they stayed holding 
each other in close embrace. 

When the storm had abated, the father became 
even more distressed about the appearance of his 
son. Did he not look like one of the dead, resur- 
rected in nakedness from the grave on the day of the 
Last Judgment ? Something must be done ! Quickly 
the Sayyid took from his travelling bag a cloak of 

the finest linen, also shoes and a turban. What did 
Majnun care about these things ? He put them on 
in obedience to his father. 

‘Soul of your father’, said the old man. ‘What 
place is this where to rest your head ? Is this where 
you are hiding ? Do you want to wait here for the 
arrow of a cruel fate, to be devoured by wild beasts 
when you have died ? I implore you, escape while 
there is time! Truly, with us a stray dog has a 
better life than you. Have you run so far in order to 
find this place ? Believe me, you can ran all your 
life without arriving anywhere. You will only get 
more tired, more weary. What use is all this agony ? 
Whom does it help ? Do you want to be the bed of a 
stream whose banks are burst by the floods ? A 
mountain, split by an earth tremor? You must 
overcome your grief, otherwise it will devour you 
even if you be of iron. You have been a rebel all 
this time. 

‘Enough! Learn to accept this world as it is. 
Stop living in the wilderness like a beast among 
beasts; do not hide in mountain caves, a versifying 
demon, a leech sucking its own blood ! Try to be 
patient, think of something else, even of trifling 
pleasures. Tempt yourself, be gay and happy, joke 
and dally ; anything — be it as fleeting as a breath of 
wind. Why not ? That is life; whether its promises 
are true or false, enjoy what the moment brings. 
What is of lasting value in this world ? Enjoy what 
you have — today ; and eat what you have harvested 
— now! Never trust tomorrow. Your day is today. 
How do we know ? Tomorrow death may hold the 


reins. What use then to regret ? Nothing counts 
but what you have achieved. A woman wears only 
what she has woven ; a man reaps only what he has 
sown. If you hope one day to win renown, begin 
today. Behave as if your life were in the hands of 
Death even now — then, when he comes, you will 
not have to worry. Only those who die their own 
death can hope to escape his claws . 5 

Hopefully the old man continued: 

‘Does not all sorrow come to an end ? Does not 
even a dog have a home ? You are human, there- 
fore live like a man! Or are you a ghoul, a demon 
of the desert in human shape ? Even then, you 
should live like a man or return to the underworld. 
Oh my son! Be my companion for the few days 
which still remain : for me, night is falling. If today 
you turn away, tomorrow you will look for me in 
vain. I have to go and you must take over my task. 
Soon my sufferings will be ended, but you should 
be happy! Look, my sun is sinking, darkened by 
the haze of a long day. Dusk is waiting for me, my 
son — my soul is taking wing. Come then, come! 
Do not delay. Take my place, which belongs to 
you ! Come ! 5 

i 24 


M AJNUN, listening to his father, 
lowered his eyes and remained 
silent. For some days he obeyed 
his father’s wishes. He rested, ate and drank, 
dressed like other people, gave up composing 
poetry and listened quietly when his father talked of 
their homeward journey together. Did he succeed 
in deceiving him ? He wanted to with all his heart, 
not only now but for all the days and nights still 
granted to the old man on earth. But that was 
beyond his strength. Unable to lie, even from pity, 
regret or shame, he at last said to his father : 

‘You are my soul’s life-giving breath. I am the 
obedient slave of your counsels, which enlighten 
my being, unravelling all knots. I have done every- 
thing to obey you, and know that I should follow 
your advice. Yet I cannot, my father! It is my 
fault ! You strike your coins with the die of wisdom, 
mine is the die of love ; it cannot be changed ! Can 
you not see that I have forgotten my past ? My 
memory is blank, the gale has blown away all I 
possessed. ... I am no longer the man I was, my 
father ! If you ask me what happened, I cannot tell 

12 5 


you, I don’t remember. I know that you are my 
father and that I am your child. But I have even 
forgotten your name, I don’t remember.’ 

In this hour Majnun understood his fate, and 
exclaimed : 

‘I have not only lost you; I no longer know 
myself. Who am I ? I keep turning upon myself, 
asking “What is your name? Are you in love? 
With whom ? Or are you loved ? By whom ?...’’ 
A flame bums in my heart, a flame beyond measure, 
which has turned my being to ashes. Do I still know 
where I live ? Do I still taste what I eat ? I am lost 
in my own wilderness ! I have become a savage with 
wild beasts as my companions. Do not try to 
bring me back to the world of humans ! Believe me, 
I am a stranger to them. One must not keep a melon 
in the garden once it has been poisoned by a fly, 
lest it infect the others. I am drawn towards 
death — death is within me. If only you could for- 
get that you ever had a son ! If only you could erase 
me from the book of those born into the world. 
If only you could bury me here and think : Some 
fool, some drunken madman. . . . What was to be 
expected of him ? . . . Oh my father ! You say that 
soon you will have to begin your last journey ? 
You say, this was the reason why you came to 
fetch me ? But it is late, too late for both of us. 
It is autumn, here and inside me, and I must 
depart — perhaps even before you. Let the dead not 
mourn the dead, my father.’ 



I ISTENING to these words, the father 
understood that Majnun was his 
U no longer. He was a prisoner in 
the land of love, and no one could bring him 

‘O you, my dearest’, replied the Sayyid, taking 
Majnun in his arms, ‘you consume yourself in your 
grief, feeding on your own liver. You are my yoke, 
but also my crown. . . . Let me then take leave of 
us both, of you and of myself. Look, our tears 
mingle and flow together; they will cleanse me, 
and in the cradle which is being prepared for my 
journey I shall have wonderful dreams. Hold me 
fast. This hour will have to nourish me on my way ; 
it must last for a long time. I too have tied my 
bundle in this world. Don’t you feel that I am not 
so far from your own? I fade away, and your 
sufferings become mine. Never again will I set eyes 
on you. Farewell. The boat which is waiting for 
me will not return. Farewell ! Where I am going, 
men wait for the resurrection. Farewell ! I feel as if 
I had already been taken out of myself. Are we not 
both late ? Is not our caravan on its way ? Farewell, 



Farewell ; never in this world shall we meet 

The old man had spoken the truth. He reached 
home, but soon afterwards his strength failed, and 
his soul unfolded its wings. For two days it 
hovered, then, breaking its fetters, the heavenly 
bird took flight and found its resting-place at the 
throne of Truth, while the earth received what 
belonged to her. 

He who remains a stranger in this world and 
wanders, restless as the moon at night, will find 
peace. Man is as lightning, born to die, not to seek 
permanence in the house of suffering. Do not settle 
down to rest here, where everything perishes; you 
will only regret it later. But if you die your own 
death in this life, tearing yourself away from the 
world which is a demon with the face of an angel, 
you will share eternal life. You are your fate, your 
death, your life. Good will be joined to good, evil 
to evil. The echo shouts your secret from the 
mountain-tops, revealing only what you confided 



I T happened during these days that a 
hunter of the tribe of Amir was 
stalking deer in the desert of Najd. 
One evening they met. Majnun was not the 
hunter’s prey, but his tongue was as sharp as his 

‘Have I to find you here’, he shouted, ‘far away 
from your people ? Do you not know anyone now 
except Layla ? Have you forgotten father and 
mother ? You should be ashamed, shameless one ! A 
son like you would be better beneath the ground 
than above it. True, you probably left your father 
alive, young fool; but now he is dead may you 
live long yourself! Will you not think of him, even 
now ? Go away, go ! Your place is at his grave. Do 
not refuse this last sign of affection to the dead. 
Ask his soul to forgive you for all your sins while 
he was alive ! ’ 

His words hit Majnun like a blow. A deep moan 
was his only answer. His body writhed and bent, 
and he looked like a harp plucked by torturing 
fingers. Then he fell and his forehead struck the 
ground time and again. 



When he recovered, he hurried day and night to 
his father’s tomb. Again grief threw him uncon- 
scious to the ground. His father, unable to rescue 
him, had at least shared his suffering. Their tears 
had mingled, now his must fall alone. Scourged 
by pain, Majnun clawed the dust with his fingers 
and, weeping, beseeched his dead father for some 
response, however slight. 

‘Father, oh father’, he implored, ‘where are 
you ? Where do I find you, who have looked after 
me and suffered so much for my sake ? Now you 
are no longer here, to whom can I talk? How 
happy you would have been if only I had been a 
better son to you ! I have pushed you into the grave 
where now you lie buried. . . . Oh father, how 
bitter it is to have lost you ! I never knew, and now 
that I have learnt, it is too late. How grievous to be 
separated from you! You were my companion, my 
protector, the pillar of my strength; you were my 
master, you understood my sufferings and bore 
them with me ! What am I now, alone and without 
you? Why did I remain when you left? Do not 
reproach me for my failure. I am nothing before 
you but shame ! ’ 

Full of sorrow and regret, Majnun exclaimed : 

‘I know that you wanted only my good. I 
rejected your helping hand. You were gentle, I was 
hard; you offered me warmth, I answered coldly. 
You suffered a thousand times, yet I did not come ; 
you prepared a bed for me and I refused; you 
offered me a banquet, and I felled the tree you 
had planted, without tasting its fruit. ... All this 


I know, my father. Nothing is left to me but 
unending pain and countless regrets. You created 
a home for me in a comer of your heart : now that 
the arrow of fate has robbed me of it, I am trying 
to reach it. How did this happen ? I was at home 
with you; suddenly you have gone and I am still 
here? How great is my sin! But I understand: 
Mine is the guilt; mine be the grief!’ 

So Majnun lamented, tearing his heart asunder 
in wild desperation, until the black flag of the 
night was lowered about him and his despair. Only 
when a new day climbed the mountain-tops and the 
breath of the sun turned dust into gold, did 
Majnun leave his father’s tomb, returning, like a 
fleeting shadow, to the caves and ravines of Najd. 




^FTER his father’s death, the 
L\ wilderness became Majnun’s only 
A. JL refuge. Restlessly he roamed 
through its gorges and climbed steep rocks which 
no human being had explored before. He appeared, 
now here, now there as if searching for hidden 
treasure, seemingly one with the rocks, like the 
wild basil clinging to them. But this shy human 
flower carried a deathly grief in its calyx. Its name 
was Layla; she was the treasure which he hunted, 
and his life was nothing but longing for her. Day 
and night this flame burned inside him. He had 
been driven from his home by his desperate desire 
to find a home with her. If, in the distance, he 
espied tents and camp fires, he was attracted like a 
night-moth, as if they were secret signs sent out 
by his beloved. 

One day he came across a group of people, all of 
whom knew him, or at least had heard of him — 
who among the Arabs had not ? They stared when 
suddenly he noticed at his feet a scrap of paper, 
tossing in the wind. It bore the names ‘Layla’ and 
‘Majnun’ written by an unknown hand, in tribute 


to their loyalty. Nothing else ; just the two names 
joined together. Majnun snatched up the paper, 
peered at it then tore it in two ; screwing up the 
part bearing the word ‘Layla’, he threw it care- 
lessly away, keeping the other half with his own 

The people looking on were greatly astonished, 
they would have expected anything but this. 
Surrounding the poet, they questioned him 
excitedly : 

‘What does this mean? Tell us, why have you 
done this ? Here, you were united, and now you 
have separated yourself from her. Why?’ 

‘Because’, said Majnun, ‘one name is better 
than two. One is enough for both. If you knew 
what it means to be a lover, you would realize 
that one only has to scratch him, and out falls his 

But they were still not satisfied. 

‘Very well’, they said, ’one name is enough for 
both, that is what you say. Maybe! But why, then, 
do you throw away Layla and keep yourself ? Why 
not the other way round ?’ 

‘Because one can see the shell, but not the 
kernel’, said Majnun. ‘Do you not understand ? The 
name is only the outer shell and I am this shell, I 
am the veil. The face underneath is hers.’ 



T HUS he spoke, and continued on 
his way, leaving behind the 
people and their tents. Love was 
glowing in him. When it burst into flames it also 
took hold of his tongue, the words streaming 
unbidden from his lips, verses strung together like 
pearls in a necklace. Carelessly he cast them away 
as toys for the wind to play with. What did it 
matter to the poet ? Was he not rich ? Was he not 
free ? Had he not severed the rope which keeps 
men tied together? To his own kind he had 
become a savage, but even a savage is not entirely 
alone in this world, even a Majnun has companions. 
His were the animals. 

He had come as a stranger into their realm, yet 
had not hunted them. He had crept into their caves 
without driving them out. Just as they, he was 
afraid and fled whenever men approached. Did 
Majnun, therefore, appear to the animals like an 
animal himself ? Not entirely : they sensed that he 
was different. He possessed a strange power, unlike 
that of the lion, the panther or the wolf, because 
he did not catch and devour smaller animals. On 


the contrary, if he found one of them caught in a 
trap, he stroked its fur, talked until it had calmed 
down, and then released it. Why ? What kind of 
a creature was he ? Who could understand him ? He 
fed on roots, grass and fruit — but even of these he 
ate sparingly — and showed no fear of the powerful 
four-footed beasts of prey which could so easily 
have tom him to pieces and devoured him. Yet 
they did not do so. To everyone’s surprise, Majnun 
was never threatened by any of the beasts that hunt 
j in the steppe and the desert. They became used to 

his appearance; he even attracted them. Catching 
his scent from afar, they came flying, running, 
trotting, creeping, drawing narrowing circles 
around him. Among them were animals of every 
kind and size, but — what a miracle — they did not 
attack each other, and lost all fear, as long as this 
trusted stranger stayed in their midst. They seemed 
to forget their hunger and became tame and 

At last a lion began to keep watch over Majnun, 
like a dog guarding a flock. Other animals followed, 
a stag, a wolf, a desert fox. Every day there were 
more of them. If Majnun rested the place soon 
looked like an animal camp. He became a king 
among his court, like Solomon. Does one not 
think of a vulture as a bone-picker ? And was not 
Majnun merely a skeleton covered with skin ? 
Yet he rested peacefully in the shade of the vultures’ 
wings, which at noon protected him against the 
heat of the sun. What a good king indeed! One 
who never oppressed his own subjects, nor 

13 5 

extorted taxes, nor sacrificed their blood to 
make war on other peoples. 

Guided by the vultures’ example, the other 
beasts of prey also lost their urge to kill. The wolf 
no longer devoured the lamb, the lion kept his 
claws off the wild ass, the lioness gave milk to the 
orphaned baby gazelle and the jackal buried his 
age-old feud with the hare. It was a peaceful army 
that travelled with Majnun as he roamed the wilder- 
ness, his animals always at his heels. Was their love 
less rewarding than that of human beings ? Do not 
believe it. 

If Majnun wanted to rest, the fox swept a place 
clean for him with its tail. The wild ass offered its 
neck as a pillow, the stag its loins as a bolster. The 
gazelle caressed his feet, the lion kept watch 
ready to pounce, and wolf and panther circled the 
camp as keen-eyed scouts. 

Thus each animal assiduously did its duty, 
watching over Majnun, protecting and caring for 
him. He lived among all these creatures like an 
exiled ruler in a foreign country, or rather like 
an angel with his wings tied. 

But the more be became the master and friend 
of the animals, the less often did he encounter 
human beings. Many of those who had visited him 
feared his new followers. When he appeared with 
his companions, people avoided him. If somebody 
insisted on seeing him, the animals, full of 
suspicion, gathered around their king, bared their 
teeth and growled, until Majnun calmed them 
down and ordered that the visitor be admitted. 



Then the stranger remained unharmed. If, however, 
he intended to disturb, harm or mock, he had to 
make good his escape speedily, lest sharp teeth 
and claws should tear his garments and his limbs. 
There was no longer admission to this chieftain 
without special permission. 

Had anyone ever known a shepherd like Majnun ? 
Was there ever a shepherd with such a flock ? 
Leaving the human world, he had come to the 
wilderness reconciling wild ones with wild ones. 

How surprised people were when this story 
reached the tents and, from there, the villages and 
towns. How was it possible ? Was it not a fairy-tale, 
a saga from times gone by ? Many just would not 
believe until they had seen with their own eyes. 
Some even undertook long journeys to satisfy their 
curiosity or their doubts. When they found 
Majnun surrounded by his court of loyal four- 
footed and winged followers, they did not know 
what to think or what to say, and their surprise was 

Many pitied him and brought food and drink, 
knowing that out of love for Layla, he had become 
a hermit. But Majnun accepted no more than a bite 
or a sip. Everything else he gave to his animals. 

And as he was good, so they became good also. 





^RE animals not an echo of human 
L\ beings ? They are what we make 
JL of them. I remember a story I 
was once told, of a ruler in the town of Marw. 

Listen! This king had a number of watch-dogs. 
They were not ordinary dogs, rather they resembled 
chained demons. Every one had the strength of a 
wild boar, and their massive jaws were strong 
enough to sever the head of a camel with one bite. 

You will ask: ‘Why did the king keep such 
monsters V Well, there was a good reason. If 
someone fell out of favour with the king and aroused 
his wrath, he was thrown to these hounds, who 

would tear the victim to pieces and devour him. 

Among the king’s courtiers there happened to 
be a youth of great intelligence, well versed in all 
arts and devices. He knew, of course, all about the 

canine monsters and their terrifying purpose. 
However happy he appeared outside, secretly he 
trembled. Was not the king a moody hothead, 
wild and irascible ? Was he not capable of hating 
tomorrow whom he loved today ? And how 
quickly that could happen, in spite of all caution ! 


A ruler’s favour is as unpredictable as the sky in 
spring. The young man shuddered, thinking of the 
fate which might be in store for him. What was he 
to do ? 

After deep thought he made his decision. As if 
by chance, he began to walk in the neighbourhood 
of the kennels and to exchange friendly words with 
the keepers whenever there was an opportunity. 
He also unobtrusively gave them small presents and 
so gradually won their confidence and good will. 

When this first step had succeeded, he took the 
next. Friendship with the keepers opened the 
door to friendship with their charges. Now, he 
brought presents for the dogs, pieces of meat, 
sometimes a whole sheep. He began to humour 
these wild beasts and talk to them until they be- 
came more and more familiar and began to expect 
him, howling with pleasure and leaping up 
impatiently in their cages as soon as they saw him 
coming. He was now able to stroke them and pat 
their heads without danger; which had been his 
object from the beginning. 

That is how things were when on one unlucky 
day the king, for no particular reason, became angry 
with the young courtier. In his blind fury he gave 
the order to throw the unhappy man into the 
kennels. The king’s will was done. Tying the 
helpless youth hand and foot, the guards pushed 
him in front of the bloodthirsty beasts. But what 
did these monsters do ? Human beings may be 
ungrateful ; not so wild dogs ! When they recog- 
nized their friend, who was unable to move, they 

gathered round him, wagging their tails and licking 
his face and hands lovingly to show their affection. 
Then they crouched around him like sentinels, 
ready to defend him against his enemies and to 
protect him from danger. Nothing could tempt 
them away. 

How surprised were the henchmen who had 
banked on watching from a safe distance a cruel 
and bloodthirsty spectacle. Instead, they witnessed 
an example of affection between man and animal. 
They could hardly believe their eyes, but the dogs 
simply disregarded their shouts. 

What in the meantime happened to the king ? 
When the day went to its rest, draping the gold- 
embroidered veil of the approaching twilight over 
its white garment, the monarch’s wrath began to 
abate. As yet he did not know what we have 
already heard, because no one dared to tell him, 
but, regretting his rash order he felt deeply 
remorseful and finally said to his friends: ‘Why 
ever did I let the dogs tear this innocent gazelle to 
pieces ? Go and see what has happened to the poor 

The courtiers did as they were told, and returned 
with one of the guards, ordering him to report to 
the king. No one will be surprised to hear that this 
man was afraid to tell the whole truth and to confess 
how the youth, by showing friendliness and 
distributing presents, had won the confidence of the 
dogs and their guards. So he said: ‘Your Majesty! 
This youth cannot be human, he must be an angel 
from heaven for whom the Almighty has worked a 



miracle. Come and see for yourself! There he 
sits, surrounded by all these hounds ; not even 
baring their teeth, they nuzzle and lick him. Is 
that not clearly God’s work ? These dogs, as you 
know, are wolves with dragons’ faces; yet, oh 
king, not one of them has harmed so much as a 
hair of his head!’ 

When the king heard this, he jumped from his 
throne, rushing to the kennel as fast as his legs 
would carry him, to save the unhappy youth, if 
possible, in the nick of time. 

But there was little need for haste. The king saw 
the miracle with his own eyes. Tears rolled down 
his cheeks like torrents and when the guards had 
untied the condemned man and brought him out 
of the kennel, the king, sobbing violently, em- 
braced him, asking his forgiveness a thousand times. 

The king, however, did not altogether believe in 
miracles. After a while his curiosity was aroused 
and when he was alone with the rescued man, he 
asked : ‘Now tell me how this really happened ? 
How did you remain unharmed in there, even for 
one minute ?’ 

The youth was too clever to hide the truth from 
the king; having told him the whole story, he 
continued : 

‘You see, your dogs became fond of me and 
saved my life for a few chunks of meat. And you, 
my king ? You know quite well that I have served 
you loyally ever since I was a boy — for ten long 
years! Yet, just because I once annoyed you, you 
intended to destroy me, and wanted your hounds 



to tear me to pieces. Who, then, is a better friend, 
you or 
respect, you or the dogs ?’ 

Thus he spoke, with great daring. But this time 
the king was not angry. He accepted this experience 
as a sign and a lesson, however bitter the dose. In 
future he left the dogs to themselves and no longer 
threw men into their cage to be devoured ; instead 
he tamed the beast in his own soul, 
i But let us return to Majnun. He was kind to the 

animals, not from fear, but out of the goodness of 
his heart, and they remained loyal to him, just as 
the dogs were loyal to the youth of Marw. As we 
shall see, they stayed with him to the last, even 
longer. Although free and wild, they followed him 
wherever he went and rested wherever he did. 

Do you grasp the significance ? Do you under- 
stand the meaning ? If you, too, follow Majnun, you 
will not have to drink the bloodstained water of this 
perishable world. 




your dogs ? Who deserves confidence and 



T HE night was as light as day and 
the face of the sky, a garden of 
flowers, hung resplendent high 
above the earth. Sparkling like a golden ornament, 
the firmament kept turning. The seven planets, 
their hands linked, trod out the dance of fate on 
the carpet of the horizon. Meteors hurtled through 
the dome of heaven like spears of light thrown 
against demons. The air was impregnated with 
scent and the jewel of the moon was spreading a 
garment of silver rays over mountains and valleys. 
Truly, the royal tent of this night was a matchless 
miracle, full of wonders. 

Like a great shah, the full moon was riding 
through it, draped in golden brocade. Mercury 
was his arrow, shot from the royal bow. Venus, 
the dancer, adorned the border of his saddle as a 
lovely ornament, while the sword of the sun which 
during the day scorches the world, remained hid- 
den in its scabbard. In the heat of anger, Mars was 
seeking to blind the eye of his enemy, while 
Jupiter carried the salvation of the world in his 
sleeve. Hanging from Saturn’s belt was the steel 


rod which he uses secretly in the darkness to 
sharpen the sword of the morning. 

But it was still night. Lonely, Majnun stood 
under the sky, his eyes wandering from star 
to star. Which of them would come to his aid ? 
At last, during this journey, his eye reached 
Venus, and it was she whom the lover addressed 

‘Venus, lighting up the night, beacon for all 
those who are searching for happiness in the world. 
Mistress of singers and dancers. Your hand holds 
the key to success, your wine sparkles in every 
goblet. You are the seal in the king’s signet ring, 
the queen in the palace of prosperity, the star of 
noble men and intimate friends. Your gift is the 
pleasantry on sensitive lips and those who belong 
to your circle are scented with ambergris. Be 
gracious also to me. Open for me the gates of 
hope, do not let me wait and starve outside. Look ! 
My soul is sick and who but you would know the 
cure ? Let me inhale the scent of my beloved while 
there is stilHime.’ 

After his prayer to Venus, Majnun’s eye 
wandered along the seam of the sky until he 
encountered Jupiter. Could he not also help? 
Majnun addressed these words to him : 

‘Jupiter, star of delight ! Whatever you promise, 
you keep your word. Yours is the care of our souls. 
You put your imprint on each kingdom in the 
world, for you are the star of just rulers and judges. 
It is you who writes the Book of Grace and you 
who determines who is to be victor and conqueror. 

14 S 


The structure of the world rests on you. You give 
my fate its grandeur, my heart draws its strength 
from you. Keep faith with me ! Do not turn your 
eye away, help me — help me, if there is still help 
for me. 5 



T HUS Majnun, in the darkness of 
night, cried out to the stars from 
the depths of his tortured heart ; 
but there was no response. The heavens remained 
silent and the human soul froze in the ice-cold 
glow of the stars. Seeing them go on their way 
unconcerned, he suddenly understood. They could 
not show him the way out of his despair. They 
were blind and deaf, their glittering splendour was 
mute. What did human agony mean to the stars ? 

Yet he raised his voice for the third time. Where 
there are ruled, there is a ruler. He who is not 
heard by creation, may be heard by the creator, 
and so Majnun prayed to him who has created 
everything on earth and is without need : 

‘Where is my refuge, if not with you ? Venus and 
Jupiter are your slaves and your name is the well- 
spring of all names. Your knowledge towers above 
all knowledge and your bounty is beyond all price. 
There is no chain which you could not break. You 
are the judge, the Lord of all Being. The deeds of 
the great ones of the world are your deeds and you 
come to the help of those who need you in their 


misery. We are all prisoners in chains, every one 
of us, and there is no help for those whom you do 
not help, O God. The seven heavens and all they 
may contain, lie at your feet. All things great and 
small, high and low, obey every gesture of your 
hand. The eye which saw you would be extin- 
guished in yours for eternity. The soul of him 
who is your dog, remains pure; woe to those who 
are not with you, but against you! I was earth, 
dark and heavy; your grace has changed me into 
pure water. So I am dead to myself. Do not let me 
lose my way and perish, do not exclude me from 
your charity ; only your grace can change my dark- 
ness to light and lift me out of the black night of 
my fate into your eternal day.’ 

When Majnun had ended his prayer, a deep calm 
overcame him. His eye no longer roamed over the 
night sky. His heart felt at home and when sleep 
gently touched his shoulder, he did not notice it. 
He had a strange dream : 

A tree grew out of the ground in front of him ; 
quickly it reached great height and extended its 
crown towards the centre of the sky. Following its 
growth with his eyes, Majnun suddenly noticed a 
bird fluttering fearlessly through the leaves towards 
him from the farthest branch. Something glittered 
in its beak, like a drop of light. Just over Majnun’ s 
head, the bird let it drop. It was a jewel, which fell 
on to the crown of Majnun’ s head and remained 
lying there, a shining diadem. 

The sleeper awoke. Already the roseate fingers of 
the new day had touched the seam of the horizon. 



The treasured dream vanished. Still, Maj nun’s 
whole being was flooded by a feeling of happiness 
such as he had not experienced for a long time. Did 
the bird of his soul take wing ? Did not his body feel 
light, as if it could fly ? Thus a dream may bring 
fulfilment at night to those who must live out their 
days without love. 




S OMETIMES a dream’s reflected 
radiance, enlightens our day. 
That is what happened to Majnun. 
It was a day which made every eye shine brighter, 
one of those mornings which waft a scent of para- 
dise over the world, as if its breeze were the 
breath of the Messiah awakening the dead. How 
could the seed of misfortune prosper in such an 
hour ? 

Fate itself had grown tired of abuse. It had sent 
out happiness, but was it not too late ? Let us see. 

Majnun was sitting in one of his retreats on a 
mountain slope, protected by rocks, and, as always, 
surrounded by his animals. Suddenly he noticed in 
the far distance at the bottom of the valley a small 
cloud of dust. Violet-coloured, it whirled into the 
silver light of the morning. The small cloud came 
nearer. It looked like a veil over a woman’s face, 
and just as one can sometimes picture the face 
hidden beneath it, Majnun perceived a rider in the 

What did he want here, what was he looking for, 
all alone, when near or far there was no tent, no 

path ? Perhaps he was looking for him, Majnun ? 
But the face and figure of the rider were unfamiliar. 
Now, the man, still far away, jumped from the 
saddle and continued his way up the mountain on 
foot. He proceeded slowly, carefully and with 
difficulty, for he was old. Or was he afraid of the 
court surrounding the king of the wilderness ? 
Was he an enemy ? Majnun was reminded of the 
black camel-rider who once brought him the ill- 
fated tidings of Layla’s marriage. 

But there was no resemblance to that fearsome 
messenger. The old man’s face was noble and 
dignified. By now, the animals had become restive, 
warning the stranger. A slight growl became 
audible here, a snarl there, there was a scratching 
of the ground, a tapping, a stealing forward. But 
Majnun lifted his hand and at once all became quiet. 
Then he rose, advanced towards the unknown visitor 
and when he reached him, spoke kindly to him : 

‘Shining star, where does your journey take you ? 
You and I — we do not know each other. Tell me, 
what good do you bring me ? I like your face ; but 
look, my animals there do not trust you . . . 
neither should I. Who has once been bitten by a 
serpent will be afraid, thereafter, even of an 
innocent coil of rope, and I, you must know, have 
been bitten not by a serpent, but by a veritable 
dragon ! Some time ago another rider came to me 
and drove a thorn right into my heart; its point 
still lodges inside and causes pain. If, therefore, you 
have come to do the same as he, you had better 
keep silent and retrace your steps.’ 

The stranger, hearing these words, threw him- 
self at Majnun’s feet like a shadow and replied : 
‘Noblest among noble creatures ! You have made 
the beasts of the wilderness your companions. 
Gazelles give you their love, and you stroke lions 
as if they were house-cats. You and yours need not 
be afraid of me. I am not your enemy, but a friend 
carrying a message from your beloved! A secret 
message, tidings such as no one has brought before : 
from her — to you alone. Now you know! With 
your permission I shall talk, but if you prefer me to 
remain silent, I shall return the way I came.’ 
Such words Majnun had not expected ! His 
heart began to dance in feverish hope, and he 
exclaimed : 

‘If it is so — speak ! Speak quickly ! ’ 

‘I know’, the old man began, ‘that your 
horoscope has behaved like an obstinate horse, 
trying to throw its rider, but why should it not be 
possible to tame it ? To begin, let me tell you what 
has happened to me. Only a few days ago I passed a 
tented camp and close by was a garden — a grove 
with water, flowers and palm trees. As I let my 
eyes roam about, what did I see but someone 
sitting there alone, nearly hidden amongst the 
leaves. Someone ? Well, let me tell you: I thought 
I was looking through the trees at a veiled star 
which had just dropped from the sky, a moon, a 
sun ! I can only say that she was sitting there in this 
garden as if she herself were part of the Garden of 
Paradise. Because you must know that it was she. 
A little stream ran through the oasis, but when this 

girl, with eyes like a gazelle, began to talk, the 
words emerged from the well-spring of her lips so 
sweetly that all the other rippling waters ceased to 
murmur and to splash, listening to her dreamily. 
And her eyes ! Even your lion would fall asleep like 
a hare once the eyes of this gazelle fell on him from 
behind her veil. All the beauties of our written 
characters are united in her : her hair is waved like 
the letter ‘ ‘Jim” , slender and lithe like an ‘ ‘ Alif ’ ’ is 
her figure, and her mouth is curved like a “Mim”. 
Adding these three letters together, you get the 
word “Jam”, which means “goblet” and that is 
what she really represents: a miraculous goblet 
whose mirror reflects the secret of the world. 

Her eyes are narcissi, flowering at the mouth of a 
spring and when you look into their calyxes you 

can see her wondrous dreams. . . . But what am 
I saying ? Her beauty blossoms like light radiating 
from the eye, like life-giving breath; but it is 
marred by suffering and weakness, which have 
bent her figure. Pearls of sorrow glint in the corners 
of her eyes, and the swaying reed has become a flute 
of sadness; the purple is muted to palest gold.’ 

After this attempt to describe Layla’s appear- 
ance, he continued: 

‘Believe me, all her hopes are concentrated on 
you, and fear alone induced her to marry. I saw 
her weeping, and it was as if a veil of moonlight 
enveloped the sun. How piteous a sight! I 
approached her and asked: “Who are you? And 
why so sad? For whom are you weeping?” 

‘She lifted her face, her sweet lips smiling with 
grief, and replied: “Why do you pour salt into 
my wounds ? Let me tell you that once I was Layla, 
now I am Layla no longer. I am madder, more 
‘Majnun’ than a thousand Majnuns. Is not Majnun 
the black star, a vagrant tormented by love? 
But my torments are a thousand times greater ! It is 
true, he also is a target for the arrows of pain, but 
he is a man, I am a woman! He is free and can 
escape. He need not be afraid, can go where he 
likes, talk and cry and express the deepest feelings 
in his poem. But I ? I am a prisoner. 

‘ “ I have no one to whom I can talk, no one to 
whom I can open my heart : shame and dishonour 
would be my fate. Sweetness turns to poison in my 
mouth. Who knows my secret sufferings ? I cover 
the abyss of my hell with dry grass to keep it 

hidden. I am burning day and night between two 

‘“Now — love cries out in my heart: ‘get up! 
Flee, like a partridge, from this raven father, this 
vulture husband.’ 

“‘Now — reason admonishes me: ‘Beware of 
disgrace ! Remember — a partridge is not a falcon ! 
submit and bear your burden !’ 

“‘Oh! A woman may conquer a hero and en- 
slave him so that he lies prostrate at her feet; still 
she remains a woman, unable to act. She may 
thirst for blood and show the courage of a lioness — 
still she remains tied to woman’s nature. As I can- 
not end my suffering, nothing is left for me but to 
yield. I am not allowed to be with Majnun, but I 
hunger for news of him : how does he spend his 
days, where does he stay ? What does he do as he 
roams the desert ? Has he any companions ? Who 
are they ? What does he say, what does he think ? 
If you know anything about him, stranger, tell me, 

I implore you ! ’ ’ 

‘These were Layla’s own words. And I ? Well, I 
see you today for the first time face to face, but 
already I know much about you. I have not grown 
old and seen the world for nothing. Do not people 
everywhere tell of you and your love? Who is 
better known among the Arabs? How strange! 
Everyone knows; Layla alone is not allowed to 
hear ! Is that fair ? That is why I stayed for a while 
and talked to her — of you. My words left an 
impression on her heart, like a seal in wax. 

“‘Majnun lives alone”, I told her, “without 

l SS 

i S4 

family or friends, like a hermit, wrapt in memories 
of his love. His only companions — so I have heard — 
are animals which shim men, antelopes, wild asses 
and others. But a love like his is too strong for 
man’s weak nature. Suffering has broken him and 
his mind has become sick. Then his father died and 
this new blow bent him even lower. Thus fate 
strews his path with thorns day after day, and he 
has become the poet of his own misfortune. His 
verses tell the story of his grief and his love, and 
tears stream from his eyes like a thousand torrents ; 
often he laments his dead father in words which 
would draw tears from a black stone.” 

‘Thus I spoke, reciting some of your lines which 
I know by heart. She gave a deep sigh, and 
trembled ; her head drooped as if she were about to 

die, far from you. She wept for a long time, 
lamenting your father’s memory, saddened be- 
cause you were now doubly alone and she could not 
be with you to share your grief. ... Then suddenly 
decision came to her. Pointing out her tent in the 

distance, she said: 

“‘Your mind is noble and your heart is pure. I 
trust you. Swear that you will return tomorrow. In 
the meantime, down there in my tent, I shall write 
a letter to Majnun and hand it to you. Then I want 
you to search until you find him ! Will you ?” 

‘I promised and so we met again the next day. In 
honour of your father she wore a dark-blue dress, a 
mourning robe. In its folds she had hidden a sealed 
letter. She gave it to me. Here it is !’ 

The old man took a letter from his bag, kissed it 


and handed it to Majnun. Could he know how 
much this meant to the lover ? At first there was no 
sign. Majnun stood as if dreaming with open eyes. 
Without a word he kept staring at his hands, which 
held the sealed message. Was it too much for him ? 
Had it come too suddenly ? Did he not understand ? 
Was it more than he could bear ? Was it not a gift 
more precious to him than all the treasures of the 
world ? 

Suddenly a demon seemed to seize his rigid 
figure. Like a raving madman he tore the rags from 
his body. Then he began to dance, ever faster, ever 
wilder. He leapt high into the air, turning like a 
whirling top. Again and again, hundreds of times. 

He did not stop until he collapsed. Unconscious, 
he lay on the ground, motionless as the stones 
around him, like a man whom wine has driven to 
raving madness and then cut down, robbed of his 
senses. But his fingers still gripped the paper 
tightly and when he came to, his first glance was at 
the letter. His heart was beating more calmly and 
he broke the seal. 



I AYLA had written : 

‘I begin this letter in the name of 
a king, who gives life to the soul 
and refuge to wisdom. He is wiser than all wise 
men, and he understands the language of those who 
cannot speak. It is he who has divided the world 
into light and darkness, and who gives its span of 
life to every creature, from the bird in the sky to 
the fish in the depths of the sea. He has adorned the 
heavens with stars and filled the earth with people. 
His majesty is without beginning or end. He has 
given them a soul, has lit it with the torch of 
reason and then illumined the world for both.’ 
Then she continued : 

‘This message is like a brocade sent by a grief- 
stricken woman to a man of sorrows. It comes from 
me, a prisoner, and is meant for you, who have 
broken your chains. How long ago, my love, did I 
seal my bond with you ! How fare you ? What fills 
your days, you to whom the seven planets, these 
heavenly cradles, show the way ? I know that you 
are guarding the treasure of friendship, and love 
derives its splendour from you. I see that your 

blood colours the mountains red at dawn and at 
dusk, but you live hidden deep down in the rocks 
like agate. In the midst of darkness you are the well- 
spring of Khizr, whence gushes forth the water of 
life. You are the night-moth, encircling the candle- 
light of an eternal morning. You have stirred up the 
world, yet turned your back towards it, living in 
the tomb of your loneliness, where only two or 
three wild asses are your companions. Here on 
earth you are a target for the arrows of reproach, 
but what is that to you ? Is not your caravan on its 
way towards the day of resurrection ? 

‘I know that you have not spared yourself, that 
you threw fire into your own harvest. You dedi- 
cated your heart to my service, and so became the 
target for slander. What matters it to you, what to 
me ? We remain loyal to each other. If I only knew 
what you are feeling, how you look and what you 
are doing. With all my love I am with you and you 
are, tell me — with whom ? Like your happiness I 
am separated from you; but even if remote from 
you, I remain your companion. 

‘True, I have a husband! A husband, but not a 
lover; for he has never shared my bed. Believe me, 
the days have exhausted me, but no one has yet 
touched the diamond; the treasure of love has 
remained sealed, like the bud of an enchanted 
flower which will never open. My husband waits 
helplessly before my closed door. 

‘Even though he has dignity and fame — what 
does that mean to me ? Who is he compared with 
you, my beloved ? Seen from afar even garlic looks 


like a lily. But if you smell it, where is the lily’s 
scent ? It is not worth gathering. A cucumber may 
remind you of a pomegranate. But taste it, and you 
will know that it was only the shape and not the 

‘Oh my love! How I wish we could build our 
nest together in this world ! But we may not. It is 
denied us. Is that my fault ? My heart, which cannot 
make you happy, weeps over our sad fate. 

‘Beloved! Send me a hair of your head, and it 
will mean the world to me. Send me one of the 
thorns lying in your path, and it will blossom into 
a rose-garden before my eyes. . . . Where your 
foot touches it, my Khizr, my messenger from 
God, the desert breaks into blossom ; be my water 
of eternal life ! I am the moon which looks at you 
from afar, to receive your light, my sun. Pardon 
my feet for being so weak that they can never 
reach you. 

‘I heard of your father’s death, and rent my robe 
from top to bottom. In sorrow, I beat my face with 
my hands as if my own father had died. As a sign of 
mourning I dressed in dark blue, like a violet, and 
my eyes, full of tears, are like the calyx of a blossom 
blinded by golden dust. Do you understand me, 
my love ? 

‘I have done everything to share your grief; 
everything, except this: I did not come to you 
myself; that was impossible. What matter? Our 
bodies are separated, but my soul is not divided 
from yours for a moment. I know what suffering is 
yours and how much your heart tortures itself. 


Yet there is only one way out of this despair for 
both of us; patience. 

‘Patience and hope. What is life in this world ? 
It is only the tumult in an inn where we stop for a 
short rest. How quickly the days pass between 
arrival and departure! A wise man does not let 
others look through his eyes into his soul. Shall 
the enemy laugh at our tears ? No ! A wise man 
hides his grief lest the wicked and malicious should 
grow fat on such a feast. 

‘Do not look at the sower casting seed, but 
remember what will grow from it. If today thorns 
block your way, tomorrow you will harvest dates, 
and the bud still closed and hidden holds the 
promise of a blossoming rose. 

‘Do not be sad ! Do not let your heart become 
heavy and do not think that no one is your friend. 
Am I no one ? Does it not help you that I am there 
and am yours — yours alone ? Believe me, it is 
wrong to complain of loneliness. Remember God. 
He is the companion of those who have no other 

‘Even in your grief about your father you should 
not burst into flame or flash like lightning in the 
sky; do not drown in your tears like a rain-cloud. 
The father has gone, may the son remain! The 
rock splits and crumbles, but the jewel which it 
enclosed endures.’ 

Reading her letter and devouring every word 
with his eyes like a man starving, so great was his 
joy that he was quite beyond himself, like a bud 
bursting its sheath. For a long time he was unable 

I I 


to say anything but ‘O God, my God . . .’ and 
again ‘O God.’ 

When he had partly regained his composure, his 
tears began to gush forth like a stream. He wept and 
wept while the messenger watched. Majnun seized 
the hands which had brought him the letter, cover- 
ing them with kisses in wild gratitude, then 
prostrated himself before the old man, and kissed 
his feet. When he returned to his senses, what was 
his first thought ? ‘I want to answer Layla’, he said, 
‘now, immediately ! I must. . . . ’ But how ? The 
poet whose pearls were offered in all the tents and 
bazaars of Arabia, had never written down his 
verses ! 

‘How can I answer her?’ he asked. ‘I have 
neither paper nor pen.’ 

But the messenger smiled. As if he had thought 
this out a long time ago, he took a little case from 
his travelling bag, opened it and — behold! there, 
in beautiful order, were all the things needed by a 
writer. ‘Here’, he said, ‘help yourself!’ 

Majnun, without a second bidding, crouched on 
the ground, resting the paper on his knees, and 
wrote — or rather painted, with tender care sign 
after sign. He did not need to think out what to 
say. How long had they grown in his heart, his 
love and his pain ! Now he brought them out from 
the depths like a diver, spreading the precious 
stones before himself in the light of day, and 
stringing them together to a necklace of letters, of 
words, of points and curves and flourishes. Stone 
by stone he thus composed an image of his grief. 

Then he handed the letter to the old man who, 
knowing how impatient the two lovers were, 
swiftly mounted his horse and sped away like the 
wind. He returned to Layla whose beautiful eyes 
read through a veil of tears what her lover had 
written to her in the wilderness. 




M AJNUN’S letter also began with 
the evocation of God: 

‘You know everything 
which lies open to the light of day, but you also 
know what is hidden, for you have created both the 
rock and the precious stone within it. Yours is the 
firmament with all the constellations. You change 
the darkness of night into the light of day, and the 
hidden chambers of the human heart lie open to 
your eyes. You cause the sap to rise in the joyous 
days of spring and lend a willing ear to the prayer 
of the unhappy man longing for consolation. ’ 

Then Majnun addressed Layla: 

‘Having lost everything which binds me to this 
earth, I am writing this letter to you who hold 
my fate in your hands, and would be welcome to 
sell my blood as cheaply as you wish. 

‘You say that I am the keeper of the treasure ? I 
am so close to it, yet so far ! My key has not yet been 
made, the iron from which it is to be forged still 
sleeps in the rock. 

‘I am the trampled dust at your feet. You are the 
water of life — for whom ? Prostrate I lie beneath 


the soles of your feet and your arm embraces — 
whom ? I would even suffer harm from you, while 
you are soothing — whose grief? I am your slave 
carrying on my shoulders your saddle-cloth — and 
you ? Whose ring adorns your ear ? You, my Caaba 
with the beautiful face, you, my altar: you have 
become a threshold — for whom ? 

‘You are my salve for a hundred thousand 
wounds, yet you are also my sickness and the wine 
in my beaker which does not belong to me. You 
are my crown which does not adorn my brow. Yes, 
you are my treasure enjoyed by a stranger, while 
I am but the beggar bitten by the serpent which 

‘You, my garden of paradise! Nowhere can I 
find a key to open the gate. My heavenly bosquet, 
how inaccessible you remain! From your forest 
comes the tree of my being. This tree is yours, and 
if you cut it down a part of yourself will die. I am 
the earth which you tread. If you caress me, I am 
the spring which bids flowers grow for you. But if 
you beat me, I am but the whirling dust which en- 
velops you. 

‘Did I not lay my head willingly at your feet ? 
Am I not famous as your slave ? Be it so, I carry a 
burden befitting a slave. Be my Mistress and act your 
part. Where is my shield ? I have thrown it away 
and surrendered to you. I have become your 
prisoner without a fight, but if you now refuse me, 
I shall be put to the sword. 

‘Show mercy to me and to yourself. Do not 
stone your own tool, do not fight your own army, 

16 5 

do not sting 

giving solace to my heart; thus slaves are set 

‘Does a knight desert his page ? How could the 
a master whom he never sees ? Let me 
remain your slave ! Do not barter me. 

‘Yet, have you not done so already ? Did you not 
engrave my name in a sheet of ice which melts in 
the sun ? Did you not lead me into the fire to be 
burned ? Is not that what you did to me ? 

‘Ah yes! You have changed my day into black 
night and have beaten me even though lamenting 
over it ! That is not fair ; to rob my heart, to abduct 
my soul and to think of me— when ? 

‘You only sell me words which hurt, while I am 
burned to ashes by my love. And you ? You, my 
dearest, who bought me : can I read in your face the 
signs of love ? Show me where they are ! 

‘Is that perhaps why you broke our tie, sealing 
a new bond with another ? Is that so ? You seduced 
me by words and gave him what love desires ? Are 
your sighs sincere ? And if not ? Then your rule is 

‘Do not be heartless: You share my grief. My 
eyes search only for you and, looking for the signs 
which herald my fate, I think only of you. Where 
can I find peace ? He only is calm who is allowed 
to look at you, not he whose days pass like mine. 
He who possesses a jewel like you, also possesses 
vigour and joy. 

‘Alas, I do not possess you. Has that not always 
happened since the beginning of time ? We dig for 

1 66 

your own body! Be gentle and mild, 

treasure, and the ground refuses to surrender it. Or, 
look at a garden! While the nightingale sings its 
praises, the raven devours its figs. And the pome- 
granate which the gardener nourished with the 
blood of his heart, is given away — who knows ? — to 
sustain a sick fool. Fate has strange ways ! 

‘When, oh my rose-coloured ruby, when will 
you be freed from this millstone of a husband ? Oh, 
moon who lights up my eyes, when will you 
escape from the jaws of this dragon ? When will the 
bee take off and leave its honey to me ? When will 
the mirror become free of rust ? When will the 
door of the treasure-house open and the serpent 
which guards it die ? When ! When will the 
Mistress of the castle let me in ? 

‘Yet, I do not bear hatred towards your husband. 
Though I have to live far from you in darkness and 
he is the moth fluttering around the lamp — may he 
enjoy the light, may he be happy! 

‘You are everything to me: good and bad, my 
sickness and my cure. 

‘Forgive me ! Forgive me if I have suspected you, 
although I know that no one has yet stormed your 
fortress, that the shell guards your pearl and that in 
the hiding place of your hair no one has touched 
your treasure. I know, yes I know! 

‘But you also know the force of passion: jealous 
hearts can harbour evil thoughts. You know how 
much I am longing to be near you, and that I envy 
a hundred times the mosquito resting on you for a 

‘What lover would be so blind that his eye and 


heart could not transform an insect into a vulture ? 
Then the fever grips me and I feel that, like an ant, 
I cannot rest until I have driven that mosquito 
from the sugar. That mosquito ? He is a noble man, 
Ibn Salam, your husband ! I know that ! But does it 
help me ? For me, he is but a thief who enjoys what 
he has not paid for. One who worries about a rose 
which it is not his right to gather. One who 
guards a pearl which he never bought. 

‘Oh, my love, with your breasts like jasmin! 
Loving you, my life fades, my lips wither, my 
eyes are full of tears. You cannot imagine how 
much I am “Majnun”. For you, I have lost myself. 

‘But that path can only be taken by those who 
forget themselves. In love, the faithful have to pay 
with the blood of their hearts ; otherwise their love 
is not worth a grain of rye. So you are leading me, 
revealing the true faith of love, even if your faith 
should remain hidden from me forever. 

‘Let my love for you be the guardian of my 
secrets. Let the grief which this love causes me, 
be my soul’s caress ! What matters it that there is 
no healing salve for my wound ? As long as you are 
not wounded, all suffering is nothing.’ 



/kMONG Majnun’s relatives there 
L-\ was one whose noble heart and 
JL \ keen mind had won the esteem 
of his fellow men. His name was Salim Amiri, and 
Majnun’s mother was his sister. All who knew him 
thought highly of him, yet modesty remained the 
mark of his dignity. 

This worthy man had always loved his nephew 
and dearly wanted to help him. But even he, who 
usually found a way out of every impasse and knew 
the cure for many an evil, had failed. Thus he had 
shared the younger man’s sufferings only from 
afar, but as often as possible had sent presents of 
clothes and food to ease the hermit’s misery. Now, 
however, the time seemed ripe to visit the lost one. 
Who knows, perhaps there was still a way to lead 
the estranged youth back to his home ? But first he 
must trace the wanderer’s steps, leading far away 
from the world of men. 

So Salim mounted his strongest and fastest camel 
and set off. Caravans and inns became less and less 
frequent as he went, but that did not deter the 
courageous rider. Like a mad demon wind, he 


raced from desert to desert, never ceasing to 
search until in the end he discovered the fugitive in 
wild mountains where no human foot had pene- 
trated before. 

But this hermit was not alone. Salim found his 
nephew amidst a horde of wild animals. Had he 
assembled all the inhabitants of desert and steppe 
into a single army ? When the rider faced their 
camp, fear crept up his spine. He stopped, waved 
to Majnun and shouted a greeting. 

‘Who are you, and what do you want ?’ came 
the answer. 

‘I am Salim, from the tribe of Amir’, was the 
reply, ‘and I, too, am one with whom fate plays 
hazard on earth. But you should know that ! I can 
see that the sun has changed you into a negro, but 
am I not still your uncle ?’ 

Only then did Majnun recognize his visitor. He 
ordered his animals not to attack, received him 
with all honours and asked him to be seated. Then 
he enquired about kinsfolk and friends and his 
visitor’s well-being. How surprised and happy was 
Salim to find his nephew so reasonable! Was this a 
madman, deserving of the name given to him ? Of 
course, if one only judged by appearance the mistake 
was understandable. But as he examined his sister’s 
son closely from head to foot, Salim felt shame 
and grief rise in his heart. How could this have 
happened ? Majnun walked like a corpse newly risen 
from the grave! Risen — where and for whom, for 
the beasts of the wilderness ? A corpse would at least 
wear a shroud, while this man was stark naked. 


Salim visits Majnun 
in the desert 

No! A nobleman from the tribe of Amir must 
not expose himself like that, not even here in this 
man- and god-forsaken hideout, where only stars, 
rocks and animals could see him — that was intoler- 

Uncle Salim could stand the sight no longer. He 
took out his second garment and held it in front of 
Majnun: ‘Forgive me! Would you mind putting 
this on ? It is not decent that you should go naked ; 
not, at least, while I am here.’ 

‘Clothes are useless to me’, replied Majnun at 
once, ‘my body is hot enough without them. It is a 
furnace in which a fierce flame is burning. As soon 
as I put on a garment, I tear it to shreds.’ 

But the uncle did not give in. He implored and 
insisted until Majnun complied with his wish. Then 
the guest produced all kinds of food from his bag, 
halwa, sugared bread and other delicacies. Who 
could have resisted ? But the harder Salim pressed, 
the more stubborn Majnun became, refusing even 
to taste them. Instead, he gave the sweetmeats to 
his animals. And they liked them! When Salim 
realized that even his magic powers of persuasion 
were wasted and that the choicest sweets would 
only be thrown to the dogs, he asked : 

‘What do you feed on, then ? If you are human, 
not a demon, you must eat, you unhappy creature. 
But what ? What do you feed on ?’ 

‘My heart is “salim” — “sound” — like your 
name’, replied Majnun, ‘even if my body has 
forgotten how to eat. All I can tell you is that I no 
longer desire food. A few roots and grasses are all 


I need. But I am not alone here. As you can see, my 
animals are only too happy to accept your presents. 
Watching them stills my hunger too.’ 

The uncle pondered these words for a little, 
then he said, smiling broadly: 

‘I understand, and perhaps you are right. After 
all, birds are caught in snares because they are 
greedy. Are human beings different ? Our hunger 
is the snare in which fate catches us. The greedier 
we are, the greater the danger. Only he who, like 
you, is content with a little grass, is truly free; a 
king in his world. That brings to mind a story 
which you must hear.’ 


‘Once upon a time a mighty king rode past the 
hut of a hermit. This pious man had turned away 
from the world, directing all his thoughts and 
desires towards the other life. His hut was a 
miserable hole with crumbling walls. 

‘The king was surprised. He could hardly believe 
that anyone would want to live in such a hovel, and 
asked his retinue : “What does this man do here ? 
What does he eat ? Where does he rest his head ? 
Who is he ?” 

‘“He is a holy man”, answered the king’s 
followers, “well known not to require sleep or 
food. That distinguishes him from ordinary 

‘The shah’s curiosity was aroused. Reining in his 

horse and beckoning to his chamberlain, he 
approached the hermit. At some distance he 
stopped, waiting for his courtier to bring the holy 
man before him. The chamberlain advanced and 

‘ ‘ ‘You, my man, have cut all ties with the world. 
You seem to be happy and content to live in this 
ruin. All alone ? Why ? Where do you find the 
strength to endure such misery ? And what do you 

‘The holy man had just crushed some plants 
found in the steppe where the gazelles graze. He 
held them up and replied with equanimity : 

‘ ‘ ‘This is what I eat ! My ration for the journey . ’ ’ 
‘The spoiled courtier, supercilious as are those 
who serve kings, grimaced and asked contemptu- 
ously : 

‘ ‘ ‘Why do you live in such misery ? If you 
entered the service of our shah, you would have 
better food than grass ! ’ 5 

“‘What do I hear?” asked the dervish indig- 
nantly. ‘‘You call this grass? My dear Sir, this 
isn’t grass, these are honey blossoms ! If you knew 
how good they taste, you would forget your shah 
and not remain in his service for another hour ! ’ ’ 
‘The king, too, heard these words and, being an 
intelligent man, realized their truth. Jumping 
from his horse and rushing up to the hermit he 
rendered homage to him and kissed him. 

‘And the king was right. Free is the man who 
has no desires.’ 



M AJNUN liked Salim’s story and 
listened with rapt attention. 
When his uncle had finished, 
Majnun appeared almost gay. He even laughed 
happily, jumped up, sat down again, and for a 
while vividly recalled the friends of his youth. He 
remembered them all and talked about them to 
Salim. Suddenly he thought of his mother. All 
gaiety faded from his face and he said, with tears in 
his voice : 

‘How is it that I have not thought of her for so 
long! Mother, my bird with the broken wings! 
Tell me quickly, how is she ? Is she in good health, 
or has grief cut her down ? I am her negro slave, my 
face blackened by shame. Yet how deeply I long to 
see her beauty ! ’ 

Here, too, Salim was able to give good counsel. 
He decided at once to fulfil Majnun’s wish. Perhaps 
the mother could persuade her son to return to his 
home and tribe. This king of wild beasts — was he 
not human after all — and did he not belong among 
other humans ? 

‘Be sure that I will bring your mother to you*, 

said Salim, when he took his leave. And he kept his 
promise, returning with her before many days had 

the mother recognized her son from afar, 
her heart shrank. How the rose had faded, how 
clouded the mirror had become! She was not 
afraid of the animals; lion, panther and wolf — 
what concern were they of hers ? She saw only her 
son in his unhappiness and rushed as quickly as her 
tired feet would carry her to embrace, kiss and 
caress her re-found child. 

Is that not a mother’s way always and every- 
where? Without question, without demand, she 
simply follows the call of tenderness and pity. 

She now washed in a flood of tears the poor 
face, so wasted, yet so familiar; now she tamed the 
wilderness of his hair with a comb taken from the 
folds of her dress. How neglected he was from head 
to foot. Moaning softly and caressing him, she 
tended the wounds caused by thorns and stones. 
When Majnun began at last to resemble the boy 
Qays, and when both had tasted the first pleasure 
and the first grief of their reunion, only then did 
the mother recover her speech: 

‘My son, what a robber you are. Is life for you 
nothing but a game of love ? Your father has been 
felled by the sword of death, which is also 
threatening me — and you are still drunk with the 
wine of your youth! How much longer? Your 
father died in grief and sorrow and I am as good as 
dead, believe me. Come to your senses ! Rise and 
return with me instead of despoiling your own 




nest. Take your example from the animals and 
birds of the wilderness. When night falls, they 
return to their nests and caves. Why not you ? For 
how long will you hide from other men? For how 
long will you roam about without sleep or peace? 
Life is brief: it passes as quickly as two days. 
Prepare your bed and give yourself some peace. 
Why should you rest your head in caves ? Why set 
your foot among ants and serpents ? The serpent 
will bite you and, once you are dead, the ants will 
eat you anyway. So leave it at that. Stop torturing 
your soul. It is not a stone hardy enough to resist 
the force of the elements. Allow your soul its rest 
and your heart its peace ! The heart also is no rock 
and you are not made of iron.’ 

Thus his mother beseeched him, and her words 
burned him with tongues of flame. 

‘Your foot be my crown’, he replied. ‘I am the 
pearl which tortures the oyster. I realize that, yet 
there is no other course. Where is my fault, if I was 
given no choice ? My life is in a desperate state but 
I have not chosen my fate voluntarily. What is the 
good of all our striving ? Each must play his 
allotted part. You should know that I have never 
been free to accept or to refuse my love, permeated 
by so much suffering and misery. Therefore, 
mother, do not insist on my return ! You want me 
to free the bird of my soul from its cage ? But this 
cage is my love ! I would never succeed. Even if I 
returned home I should only be caught in another 
trap, because what you call “home” is to me but a 
second prison, where — I fear — I would die, unless 



I escaped again. My home is my love ; nowhere else 
am I at home. Leave me, therefore; do not press 
me. You, too, are unhappy because I suffer. I know 
that, yet I cannot help it ; I cannot — forgive me ! ’ 

Majnun threw himself at his mother’s feet as if 
he were her shadow; begging forgiveness, he 
kissed her feet, even the ground beneath them. 

There was nothing the old woman could say or 
do. Weeping she took her leave and returned home 
with her brother Salim. But, longing for her child, 
home became foreign to her and before long she 
died, following her husband into the other world. 



O NCE more that royal horseman, 
the sun, galloped into the 
arena where the wheel of 
heaven turns. His rivals the stars went pale and 
retreated towards the rim of the horizon in the 
west. The shining rays of the conqueror made 
the crystal bowl of the night scintillate until the 
morning lifted it high and then broke it, so that 
the wine ran out, colouring the firmament purple 
from one end to the other. Thus day broke. 

Majnun was sitting far from all human company, 
beating out on the drum of his loneliness qasid 
after qasid of his lovesongs; whether day or night, 
mattered not to him. In his wilderness no one 
counted the hours. He did not know about the 
happenings in the world of men, great or small, not 
even that his mother had since left, departing 
farther than he himself had gone. He might never 
have learned it, had not his uncle, bringing food 
and clothes, visited him for the third time to tell 
him. Salim lifted his face up to the sun and 
lamented : 

‘In truth, your mother saw enough unhappiness 


in the light of her days. Now, far from you, she has 
closed her eyes. Tying her bundle, she has said 
farewell to the house of the world and has gone. 
You were missing when she left, but she was 
longing for you as your father before her. ’ 

In deep distress Majnun battered his face with 
his fists. He wailed like a bewitched harp and 
struck the ground like glass hitting a stone. Then 
he raced away until he reached the place where his 
mother now lay beside his father. 

He buried his face in the earth where the dead 
rest, waiting to be questioned by angels before the 
Last Judgment. His lament rose to the sky, but 
when has the wailing of man ever brought back the 
dead ? 

Those who heard him were the living. His 
family and the men of his tribe came rushing one 
after the other. Looking at Majnun, worn with 
misery and bowed by despair, they had to com- 
miserate not only with his parents but also with 
himself, whether they liked it or not. 

‘We salute you’, they said, ‘your grief is ours, 
and our home is yours. Stay with us, do not leave 
again ! ’ 

Whatever they said — Majnun’ s answer was but a 
moan. No — even now he was only a guest. Nothing, 
no one could hold him. His home was here no 
longer, his friends had become strangers. He tore 
himself away from their hands, his eyes leaping 
ahead of his steps into the mountains where only 
his animals awaited him; there was space for his 
heart to suffer from one rim of the sky to the other. 


For one brief moment he had hit the trail of men 
like a flash of lightning — then he vanished again like 
a cloud driven by the wind. . . . 

What is human life after all ? Whether it endures 
for a brief spell or longer — even if it could last a 
thousand years; take it as a breath of air merging 
into eternity. From the beginning, life bears death’s 
signature; they are brothers in the secret play of 
their eyes. For how long then do you want to 
deceive yourself ? For how long will you refuse to 
see yourself as you are and as you will be ? Each 
grain of sand takes its own length and breadth as 
the measure of the world; yet, beside a mountain 
range it is as nothing. You yourself are the grain of 
sand; you are your own prisoner. Break your cage, 
break free from yourself, free from humanity; 
learn that what you thought was real is not so in 
reality. Follow Nizami: burn but your own trea- 
sure, like a candle — then the world, your sovereign, 
will become your slave. 

1 8 1 


M AJNUN’S letter did not soothe 
Layla’s grief; on the contrary, 
it increased her suffering and 
the sadness of her days. Majnun certainly only 
wanted to torture himself with his bitter laments 
and reproaches. But his heart knew the truth and 
at the end of his letter he admitted : 

‘Forgive ! I suspected you, although I knew that 
no one had conquered your fortress. . . .’ Layla 
understood her beloved and felt hurt only because 
he hurt himself so deeply. 

He in his wilderness could be as free and as mad 
as he liked ; she had always been a prisoner, first her 
father’s, then her husband’s. A prisoner, courted, 
loved and spoiled — but did that ease her fate ? Her 
husband obeyed, never touching her, but he lived 
in hope and laid siege to her with his tenderness, 
enclosing her in the walled city of his love. In 
jealous loyalty he guarded the gate which he was 
not allowed to enter. 

But one night, which was as black as a Moor, 
Layla managed to escape from the tent. She sensed 
that this was not an ordinary night! Where was 


she to go ? She did not know ; in the darkness she 
blindly followed a voice in her heart which led 
her to the edge of a palm grove where two paths 
crossed — the same place where she had once met 
the old horseman who had taken her letter to 

Who knows, suggested the voice, perhaps, as 
you want it so badly, you will again receive word 
from him here. And so it was ! 

When she reached the crossroads, she suddenly 
perceived a shadow right in front if her. Like hers, 
his steps seemed to be guided in the darkness by 
the flaming torch of his heart. She knew at once 
that it was the old man. 

Who was he ? Perhaps Khizr, God’s messenger 
himself ? Layla did not ask ; and as she had felt in her 
soul that she would meet him here, she was hardly 
surprised. She addressed him without hesitation: 
‘What news do you bring about the course of 
heaven ? What does he do, my wild love in his 
wilderness? Of whom does he dream? What 
does he say ?’ 

The old man did not seem surprised either, not 
by Layla, nor by her words. Gently he replied: 

‘Without you and your light, my moon, he 
about whom you enquire, is like Joseph the youth 
at the bottom of the pit. His soul is like the ocean 
at night, whipped up by the gale under a moonless 
sky. Like a herald he roams through mountains and 
valleys shouting at every step ; and what he shouts 
is “Layla”, and what he seeks is Layla. Good 
or bad, he no longer knows himself. He is on 


his way to nowhere, for he has no goal left but — 

When the girl heard this, she became a reed 
sounding the melody of lost love. Her narcissus 
eyes overflowing with tears, she said : 

‘It is I who have burnt my lover’s heart and 
brought this fate upon him! How I wish that I 
could be with him in his adversity! But our 
sufferings are not alike. It is I, not he, who is 
caught like Joseph in the pit. Majnun is free, walk- 
ing over the mountain peaks where I cannot follow 
him out of my valley — yet I will see him !’ 

With these words Layla loosened some jewels 
from her ear-rings, kissed them and handed them 
to the old man with these words : 

‘Accept these as a present; go, fetch Majnun and 
bring him here. Then arrange a secret meeting in 
this garden. I only want to see him, to look at him, 
one single glance into the light! How else can I 
know how he fares. How deep is his loyalty ? And 
perhaps, who knows, he will recite a few of his 
lines for me, two or three only, which no one else 
has yet heard; perhaps when I listen to them the 
tangled skein in my soul will be unravelled.’ 

When he heard Layla’s words the old man care- 
fully tied the pierced pearls she had given him into 
his sash, then he took his leave of the matchless 
pearl whom no one had yet pierced. 

He rode through the night and the desert while 
Layla’s fears and hopes rode invisible beside him. 
Like a mariner sailing from island to island he 
travelled from oasis to oasis; but none of the 

Bedouin could put him on the track. Fate alone led 
him. He finally found the king of the wilderness at 
the foot of a mountain, surrounded by his animals, 
and as sad as a treasurer whose precious jewels are 
in the hands of a stranger. 

Majnun was happy when he recognized the old 
man. Jumping up, he sharply ordered his growling 
and snarling companions to keep their peace. They 
calmed down, the messenger entered their circle 
and stopped in front of Majnun. Greeting him with 
the reverence due to a ruler, he bent down to the 
ground, invoked the grace of heaven on Majnun and 
spoke thus: 

‘Ruling in the realm of love, may your life en- 
dure as long as love itself. I am sent by Layla, 
whose beauty is one of the wonders of the world. 
She values her bond with you higher than her life. 
How long is it since she has seen your face, or heard 
your voice ! She wishes to see you, so that eye can 
look into eye, if only for the passing of a breath. 
And you : would it not also make you happy to see 
her ? Could you not once break the fetters of 
separation, recite verses which would bring peace 
to her heart, re-live what has become memory, 
re-awaken what belongs to the past ? 

‘Look, I know of a garden where palm trees, as 
dense as a forest, will protect you from prying eyes. 
There will be nothing above but the wheeling 
expanse of the sky, nothing beneath but a carpet of 
living green. . . . Come! Spring awaits you there 
and the key of your fate ! ’ 

With these words, the old man produced a 


garment from his bag and, with words of blessing, 
put it on Majnun who was almost numbed by what 
he heard. Was it really possible, then, to steal a 
glance at paradise while living on earth ? Could a 
small particle of eternity break the chain of hours ? 
How could this old man understand ? What did 
people beyond the wilderness know about ‘Maj- 
nun’ ? Their happiness was not his; there was 
fulfilment for their wishes, but not for his longing. 

Yet, how could Majnun resist what was offered 
to him, how could he ignore the call of his beloved ? 

When the old man had dressed him fittingly for 
a journey into the world of men, they departed, 
followed, of course, by the caravan of animals who 
would not desert their shah wherever he went. 

The nearer they approached Layla’s abode, the 
more Majnun trembled in feverish desire. Im- 
patience drove him on. It was as if a well-spring 
filled with the water of life was beckoning him 
from the horizon, as if the wind was even now 
wafting the scent of his beloved, as if he was dying 
of thirst while the waves of the Euphrates were 
receding from him. . . . 

But for once stubborn fate proved favourable to 
the lovers. One evening Majnun and his guide 
safely reached the palm grove where the animals 
were to camp and await their master’s return. In 
the falling dusk Majnun himself went into the heart 
of the garden and sat down under a palm tree to 
rest, while the old man left, to give the pre- 
arranged signal to Layla. 

The fairy girl, hidden in her tent, espied the old 

one at once from behind the curtain where she had 
waited so long, tom between fear, doubt and hope 
— though that was a small price to pay for the 
chance of seeing the beloved after years of separa- 

Wrapped in her veil and protected by the grow- 
ing darkness, Layla rushed to the garden, her soul 
flying ahead of her feet. She saw Majnun, but 
stopped before reaching the palm tree against which 
he was leaning. Her knees trembled and her feet 
seemed rooted in the earth beneath them. Only 
ten paces separated her from her beloved, but he 
was enveloped by a magic circle which she must not 
break. Turning to the old man at her side, she said : 

‘Noble sir! So far I am allowed to go, but no 
farther. Even now I am like a burning candle. If I 
approach the fire, I shall be consumed. Nearness 
brings disaster, lovers must shun it. Better to be 
ill, than afterwards to be ashamed of the cure. . . . 
Why ask for more ? Even Majnun, he, the ideal 
lover, does not ask for more. Go to him! Ask him 
to recite some verses to me. Let him speak, I shall 
be ear; let him be the cup-bearer, I shall drink the 
wine ! ’ 

The old man went, but when he approached the 
quiet figure under the palm tree, he saw that 
Majnun’ s head had sunk: he had fainted. Moved 
by pity and fear, the old man took the youth’s head 
in his lap, showering the pallid face with tears. 
When Majnun came to, he drew himself up and, 
as his eyes found their way to Layla, the verses she 
had asked for began to flow from his lips. 




And who am I — so far from jou, jet near? 

A singing beggar! Layla, do you hear? 

Freed from life’s drudgery , my loneliness , 

Sorrow and grief for me spell happiness. 

And thirsly in the painstream of delight, 

I drown. Child of the sun, I starve at night. 
Though parted our two loving souls combine, 

For mine is all your own and yours is mine. 

Two riddles to the world we represent, 

One answer each the other’s deep lament. 

But if our parting severs us in two, 

One radiant light envelops me andyou, 

As from another world — though blocked and 

What there is one, down here is forced apart. 

Yet if despairing bodies separate, 

Souls freely wander and communicate. 

I’ll live forever — Mortal Fear, Decay, 

And Death himself have ceased to hold their sway. 
Sharing your life in all eternity 
I’ll live if only you remain with me. 


Layla listened while Majnun recited other poems. 
Suddenly he fell silent, jumped up and fled from 
the garden into the desert like a shadow. Though 
drunk with the scent of wine, he still knew that we 
may taste it only in paradise. 



B Y that time the caravans had 
, brought Majnun’ s poems from 
' the desert to the alleyways and 
bazaars of the towns. There lived a youth by the 
name of Salam in Baghdad on the Tigris. He was 
not lacking in beauty and intelligence, but had 
tasted love’s sorrow. Being very fond of poetry, he 
soon learned of Majnun and of his love-songs for 
Layla. How miraculous ! 

I must find this Majnun, the youth thought, I must 
see him and talk with him, for he also is unhappy in 
love, and a famous poet. . . . 

No sooner thought than done. The youth tied his 
possessions into a bundle, mounted a camel and 
travelled to the country of the Bedouin. 

For a long time he roamed the desert, searching 
and asking, until at last he found Majnun, naked 
from head to foot. When Majnun saw Salam and 
realized that he must have come from afar, he 
forbade his beasts to attack, then beckoned the 
youth to approach, greeted him kindly and asked : 
‘Where do you come from ?’ 

‘I have reached journey’s end’, was the reply; 


The Youth from Baghdad 
visits Majnun among his animals 

‘my home is Baghdad and I have come for your 
sake into a strange land, to see your wondrous face 
and to hear your strange verses. As God has 
preserved my life, allow me to stay with you for a 
while. I want to be your slave, Enlightened One, 
to kiss the dust under your feet and to submit to 
your rule. Every verse you recite I will learn by 
heart, a vessel for your wine, a treasury for your 
jewels. Allow me to stay, to serve you, to listen 
to you. Look on me as one of your animals, 
guarding you faithfully, never leaving your side. 
What harm could one more do, a slave as young as 
I ? Yet I am one of those crushed by the millstone 
of love.’ 


W HEN Majnun heard the 
stranger’s words, the new 
moon of a smile wandered 
over his face and he replied : 

‘Oh, my noble sir! The path you have taken is 
full of danger and it would be better for you to 
retrace your steps. Your place is not with me, for 
you have tasted not one of my countless sufferings. 
Look, I have nothing left but these few beasts, no 
foothold of my own — how could I provide one for 
you ? How could I live in harmony with you, when 
I cannot live with myself? Even demons flee from 
me and my talk — what then can you hope to gain ? 
You search for the warmth of a human being, but 
I am a lonely savage. Return to your own kind! 
Let my story be a warning to you. You and I, we 
do not agree. Your ways differ from mine; you 
are your best friend, I destroy myself. Leave me ! As 
a reward for your long journey accept my advice. 
You have found here one who has become a stranger 
to himself, one who feeds on pain. Say to him: 
“Allah be with you!” and leave him as you found 
him. Go ! If you do not leave on your own account, 




you will in the end have to flee — hurt, soul and 
body — whether you want to or not. ’ 

Thus spoke Majnun. Salam of Baghdad heard his 
words, but they did not still his desire. 

‘I implore you, for God’s sake’, he insisted, ‘do 
not refuse my thirst a drink from your well. I have 
come to you as a pilgrim. Do not prevent me from 
praying in your Mecca!’ 

In the end, pressed hard by the youth, Majnun, 
to his regret, had no choice but to give in to his 
demand. Salam was happy. Fetching his bundle, he 
opened it, spread a rug on the ground and heaped 
delicacies upon it: halwa, sweetmeats and other 
sugared and spiced food. 

Then he said : 

‘Be my guest, as I am yours ! Break bread with 
me, do not refuse my repast. You may want to fast, 
but man, according to his nature, must eat to 
retain his strength. Fall to!’ 

But Majnun did not accept his invitation. ‘I am 
one of those’, he replied, ‘who have eaten the eater 
within themselves. Bread and halwa feed the 
strength of those who look anxiously after their 
own well-being. I am free from this anxiety. How 
then can fasting harm me ?’ 

The youth from Baghdad took these words in his 
own way. Thinking that he should encourage and 
comfort the comfortless, he replied : 

‘It would be better if you did not always feed the 
despair in your heart. Even the sky does not re- 
main the same ! It changes face and constantly 
reveals to us new pages in the book of fate. One 

moment, brief as the blinking of an eye, may open 
a hundred doors leading from grief to joy. Do not 
be so faithful to your sorrow; better to turn away 
from it, better to laugh than to weep, even if the 
wound still smarts. My heart also was broken, my 
body exhausted and paralysed. Yet God, in his 
mercy, showed me the way out of this misery. In 
the end, your grief too will be softened and you will 
forget what happened. Is not the flame of love, 
which set you alight, the fire of youth ? When the 
youth becomes a man, even this burning furnace 
cools down.’ 

The advice was well meant; Majnun suppressed 
his anger and answered : 

‘Who do you think I am ? A drunkard ? A love- 
sick fool, a slave of my senses, made senseless by 
desire ? Understand : I have risen above all that, I 
am the King of Love in majesty. My soul is purified 
from the darkness of lust, my longing purged of 
low desire, my mind freed from shame. I have 
broken up the teeming bazaar of the senses in my 
body. Love is the essence of my being. Love is fire 
and I am wood burned by the flame. Love has 
moved in and adorned the house, my Self has tied 
its bundle and left. You imagine that you see me, 
but I no longer exist: what remains, is the be- 
loved. . . . 

‘And you believe this love, so heavy with grief, 
could ever run dry ? Never — unless the stars pale 
in the sky. You think this love could be tom from 
my heart ? I tell you, sooner you could count the 
grains of sand in the desert! 


‘Therefore, if you want to talk to me, keep your 
tongue in check. Rather take care of yourself and 
spare me such nonsense !’ 

Thus Majnun advised the youth, who had to 
admit his error. Beware of thoughtless speech! 
Before you shoot your arrow, test the bow : is not 
the string too slack for the target, your arm too 
weak ? Words can be shot even faster than arrows, 
but shame and regret remain. 

Only for a short time did Majnun and the youth 
from Baghdad walk the same path. Had not the 
hermit warned his visitor ? For a while Salam 
bravely accepted life in the desert ; and not without 
reward, for Majnun’s verses were wonderful gifts, 
pearls of great beauty, which he, the wanderer 
through the world, scattered on the ground. 
Salam collected them all and preserved them care- 
fully in the casket of his memory. 

But soon the youth from Baghdad could no 
longer endure life in the wilderness without food 
or sleep. He felt that he would perish if he stayed 
much longer and so he left the beasts and their 
master, returning to the land of men and to Bagh- 
dad. There, he made people listen to the poems he 
had gathered and all were amazed and moved to the 
depths of their being. 


HATEVER befalls us has its 
meaning; though it is often 
hard to grasp. In the Book of 
Life every page has two sides. On the upper one, 
we inscribe our plans, dreams and hopes; the 
reverse is filled by providence, whose verdicts 
rarely match our desire. 

Who can decipher fate’s handwriting ? However, 
what at first we are unable to read, we then have 
to endure later on. Our thoughts and wishes go 
out into the future, but often we make mistakes 
and have to pay when our reckonings do not 
balance. Thus we admire a rose and long to 
possess it; but a thorn wounds our outstretched 
hand; it bleeds when we withdraw it. We suffer 
from hunger and thirst and unfulfilled desire, and 
forget that satisfaction might be our peril and 
indigence our salvation. 

Often fate and man’s desire are in conflict; it is 
better, therefore, to accept than to rebel. Do not 
forget that what appears to be vinegar sometimes 
proves to be honey. 

Layla, the enchantress, was a treasure to others, 



but a burden to herself. If to her husband she 
appeared to be a precious jewel, he was for her a 
serpent coiled around her. In his eyes she was the 
moon ; she saw him as a dragon holding her in his 
jaws. So each suffered from the other. 

For Layla this existence was constant torment. 
Was she not like a ruby enclosed in the heart of a 
stone ? She had no weapons but patience and deceit. 
She knew no other grief or happiness but her 
secret love which she hid from all eyes, especially 
from those of her husband, Ibn Salam. Was he in 
a better state ? Was his fate easier than Majnun’s ? 

In the eyes of the world he possessed Layla, who 
was more precious to him than anything else ; yet 
this possession was an illusion. He knew this and he 
too had to keep it secret. He guarded a treasure to 
which no path would lead him, although it belonged 
to him ; he was not allowed to enjoy what was his. 

Such a wound smarts, but his love was so strong 
that he felt grateful even for pain. He was a 
magician keeping a fairy captive in the world of 
men, to worship her for ever. 

Did Layla know that ? She hid her tears from her 
husband. When he came, she smiled. She was like 
a candle which burns alone, spreading its cheerful 
light yet shedding waxen tears at the same time. . . . 

But the turning wheel of heaven reveals what 
fate has decided, without pity for mortal man. 
Where, in the end, is he to go, who loves without 
being loved ? In time Ibn Salam lost all hope. Layla 
saw him rarely and, estranged from her who, 
though his wife, was still a bride, he fell ill. 


The grief hidden in his soul poisoned his body. 
A violent fever seized him and his breath was as 
hot as the wind from the desert. 

A doctor was called, a skilful man, who well 
knew his art. He felt the patient’s pulse, examined 
his water and gave him healing potions which 
gradually quenched the fire. Thus he showed the 
ailing body a way to health and it seemed that Ibn 
Salam was saved. 

But as soon as he was slightly better, he ate and 
drank and did what the doctor had forbidden him. 
The fever which had sheathed its claws, attacked 
anew, the evil which had left him, returned. 

What was to be done ? This time the doctor was 
helpless. Thus the first wave of the flood softens 
the clay, the second carries it away. A wall, 
cracked and shaken to its foundations, may 
survive one tremor; if a second wave follows, it 
must collapse. 

Ibn Salam was still young, though weakened by 
illness and grief. For two or three days his strong 
nature resisted the new attack, but then his breath- 
ing became slower and heavier until the soul fled 
his body and left this world of misery, dancing 
away from the earth with the wind. 

What we are and possess is but a loan — and that 
not for long ! Do not clutch what has been given to 
you, for joy and desire to possess are but nails 
fastening you to the perishable world. To obtain 
your jewel you have to burst open the casket and 
take wing like the dove from the tower on which 
you are standing. . . . 

19 9 

Ibn Salam, then, was dead. 

And Layla ? What did she do ? Although she had 
never loved him, he had, after all, been her hus- 
band and she pitied him. On the other hand — she 
felt relief. For how long had she veiled her heart 
like her face ! Now she felt like one of the animals, 
gazelles or wild asses, which her beloved had 
freed from the hunters’ snares: the shackles she 
had worn for years suddenly fell off. 

How she enjoyed this freedom to weep to her 
heart’s content, without shame or fear of watchful 
eyes. No one could be certain whom she was 
mourning. No one could know that she was shed- 
ding tears not for the dead Ibn Salam, but for the 
living Majnun. Only the outer shell of Layla’s 
mourning was her husband’s — the kernel was her 

Now Layla too was free, as free as Majnun, but 
her freedom was different. It is the custom among 
the Arabs that after her husband’s death a widow 
must veil her face, seeing no one; for two years 
she must live in her tent, withdrawn from the 
world, mourning and lamenting the dead. 

Nothing could be more welcome to Layla. Now 
she was free, without fear, to give heart and soul to 
her beloved. 


Mourning for Layla’s husband 



escaped from rivers and lakes, the face of the land- 
scape became sere and yellow. The flowers shed 
the colour and brilliance of their garments. Ready 
to depart, the narcissus tied its bundle. The jasmin’s 
silver lost its precious gleam and the rose-petals 
became a book of mourning. Like sailors afraid of a 
storm, branches and calyxes threw their load over- 
board and the gardeners collected apples, grapes 
and berries to protect them from the advancing 

And as the garden fared, so fared Layla. Her 
spring had faded, withered by the Evil Eye of the 
world, and her flame flickered in the gusts of the 
wind. The fairy-one had become weak and trans- 
parent; of the full moon only one half remained, 
and of the proud cypress only its shadow. Our 
tulip shed her petals! 

A cold fever shook her limbs and spread dark 
blotches and stains over her sweet face. Layla 
could hardly leave her bed and her soul prepared to 


leave the body like a pheasant abandoning the crown 
of the felled cypress tree. 

She knew it well. Sensing that death stood close, 
she allowed no one near but her mother, revealing 
in this hour for the first and last time, the secret of 
her love. Then she said : 

‘Mother, oh my dear mother, how does it 
happen that a gazelle kid imbibes poison with its 
mother’s milk? I am fading away — and what has 
my life been ? I have suffered so much in secret 
that now I must talk. Before my soul escapes, the 
grief in my heart breaks open the seal on my lips. 
I must draw back the curtain and then I shall go. 
My beloved, for whom I have lived and for whom I 
die, is far away. Listen to me, mother! 

‘When I am dead, dress me like a bride. Make me 
beautiful. As a salve for my eyes, take dust from 
Majnun’s path. Prepare indigo from his sorrow, 
sprinkle the rose-water of his tears on my head and 
veil me in the scent of his grief. I want to be clad 
in a blood-red garment, for I am a blood-witness 
like the martyrs. Red is the colour of the feast ! Is 
not death my feast ? Then cover me in the veil of 
earth which I shall never lift again. 

‘He will come, my restless wanderer — I know. 
He will sit at my grave searching for the moon, yet 
seeing nothing but the veil — the earth — and he will 
weep and lament. Then, mother, remember that 
he is my friend — and how true a friend ! Remember 
that I leave him to you as my bequest! Treat him 
well, comfort him, never look harshly upon him. 
Do so, for God’s sake, because I have loved him 


and my wish is that you too should love him as I 
did . 5 

But Layla’s heart was not yet stilled in her care 
for Majnun : 

‘When he comes, mother, and you see him, give 
him this message from me! Tell him: “When 
Layla broke the chain of the world, she went, 
thinking of you lovingly, faithful to the end. Your 
grief in this world has always been hers and she has 
taken it with her to sustain her on the journey. 
The longing for you did not die with her. Behind 
the veil of earth, you cannot see her eyes, but they 
are looking for you, following you wherever you 
go. They are waiting for you asking: when do you 
come? ...” Tell him that, mother!’ 

Thus Layla spoke. Tears streaming down her 
face, she called the name of her beloved. Then her 
voice died away and she crossed the frontier into 
the other land. 

When death had closed her lips, the mother’s 
grief was boundless. She tore her jasmin-white 
hair and embraced and clasped her daughter’s body 
as if she could breathe life into it again. She pressed 
her face against Layla’s forehead and her tears 
glinted and sparkled like a cluster of stars on the 
extinct moon. 

To no avail — even if heaven itself had joined in 
the lament. Everyone must cross this threshold, 
but none returns. 


I T happened just as Layla had foretold : 
when Majnun in the wilderness 
learned about the death of his 
beloved he set out at once. He came like a thunder- 
cloud driven by the storm and fell down on her 
grave as if struck by lightning. Do not ask what it 
looked like, his burnt-out heart ! 

Enough ! People who saw and heard him were so 
terrified that they fled; some even wept for him. 
Like a serpent, twisting and turning over the 
treasure which it guards, he writhed in torment 
and his tongue was a flaming torch of lament. 

‘Oh, my flower’, he exclaimed, ‘you withered 
before you blossomed, your spring was your fall, 
your eyes hardly saw this world.’ 

To those who watched Majnun appeared madder 
than ever and so did his words, which resounded 
in their ears, words which he addressed to his 
beloved in her grave : 

‘How do you fare where you rest now, down 
there in the darkness ? Your musk-mole, your 
gazelle eye- — where are they ? The splendour of 
your agate lips, the amber-scented coils of your 

tresses — what has happened to them ? Which 
colours adorn you there, you, my beautiful picture ? 
In what bowl do they melt you, my candle ? Whose 
eyes do you gladden now ? On which bank do you 
grow, my cypress tree ? And in which tulip garden 
do you celebrate your feast ? How do you spend 
your time in the cave ? Where there are caves, 
there also live serpents ! Do you not know that ? 
What does a moon like you seek in such a place ? 
Look, I suffer for you and your life in the cave ! Or 
are you a buried treasure now ? You are; else you 
would not have disappeared into the earth. But 
every treasure has a serpent in its cave to guard it. 
This guardian am I! I am your serpent, I have no 
other abode. 

‘How changed you are! Your fate was clouded, 
disturbed like sand on a desert path ; suddenly you 
have fallen still, like the water in the depth of a 
well. Yet, even if you are hidden from my eyes, 
my heart can see you and will never lose you. Even 
if your form has vanished — your sufferings here will 
endure through eternity.’ 

Then Majnun jumped up again. He was not alone, 
for his beasts surrounded him in dumb loyalty. 
Now they followed him back into the wilderness, 
while he sang of love, which is stronger than 

Thus the caravan moved through the desert. The 
sand wept with Majnun, the mountains echoed his 
mourning songs, his lament struck sparks from the 
thorn-bushes in the gorges and the stones of the 
steppe glowed with the colour of his blood. 


Layla is carried to her grave. 
Majnun walks in front of the coffi 



But even the wilderness no longer offered a 
refuge to this homeless heart. Again and again his 
longing drove Majnun back to the grave of his 
beloved; like a mountain stream he rushed down 
into the valley, covering with thousands of kisses 
the earth where his buried love awaited him. 

While he was lying there, weeping and telling 
his grief, the animals kept watch over him, so that 
he should not be disturbed. 

Thus it happened that people began to avoid 
Layla’s grave. Not surprisingly, for who was to 
know whether the madman would suddenly 
appear ? Who wanted to be struck down by a lion’s 
paw, to be tom by a wolf’s fangs ? 


Majnun laments 
at Layla's grave 




M AJNUN covered the last pages 
of his book of life with the 
black darkness of his mourning. 
He travelled rapidly towards death, but however 
fast he moved, it still appeared too slow to him. He 
was a pilgrim in this world, his Mecca a grave, his 
inn the loneliness of desert and rock. The harvest 
of his days on earth was burnt and the millstones of 
heaven were grinding him to dust. 

There came a day when he felt a great weakness. 
Once more he dragged his body to Layla’s tomb. 
When he arrived evening had fallen, darkening 
the ocean of the sky. Soon Majnun’s boat was to 
weigh anchor for his journey into the night. 

He resembled an ant exhausted unto death, 
twitching for the last time, a serpent writhing in its 
death- throes. Weeping, he recited some verses; 
then, his eyes closed, he lifted his face, raised his 
hands towards the sky and prayed : 

‘Maker of all things created! I implore thee in 
the name of everything which thou hast chosen: 
relieve me of this burden. Let me go where my 
love dwells. Free me from this cruel existence 


and, in the other world, cure me of my torment 

With these words, Majnun lay down his head on 
the earth and embraced the gravestone with both 
arms, pressing his body against it with all the force 
he could muster. His lips moved once more, then 
with the words, ‘You, my love . . .’ the soul left 
his body. 

2 1 1 


M AJNUN remained as lonely in 
death as he had been in life. 
Having found his rest, he was 
safe from wagging tongues ; for a long time no one 
knew, no curiosity disturbed his slumber. 

Some say that he remained lying on the grave of 
his love, where he had died, for a month or two. 
I have also heard that the time was even longer, 
that as much as a year passed. 

People thought him still alive ! Whenever they 
came to watch from afar, they saw wild animals 
surrounding the grave. Protected by them, Majnun 
slept safely like a king in his litter. Even now, they 
did not leave their master, unwilling to believe that 
he would never awaken again. Patiently they 
waited and Layla’s tomb seemed to have become a 
home for the roving beasts. 

Afraid of such guardians, people did not dare to 
approach. They thought and said to one another: 
‘The stranger is lying on the grave as usual.’ 

Thus the dead man was left alone; even beasts 
which feed on carrion did not touch him. What 
little remained of him fell into dust and returned 

Riding from Jerusalem through the seven 
spheres of the planets on his horse Boraq y the 
Prophet Mohammed ascends to Heaven 
( Illustration to one of the pr faces to the 
Book of Layla and Majnun ) 


2 1 3 

to earth; in the end nothing was left but his 

Then only did the animals abandon their watch ; 
one after the other they disappeared into the 
wilderness. When the magic lock had been removed 
from the hidden treasure, people approached to 
solve the riddle and found what remained of 
Majnun. Death had completed his work so well 
that no one felt fear or disgust. The white shell, its 
pearl vanished, was washed clean and men let 
jewelled tears of mourning flow into it. 

They all wept — members of Majnun’ s and Layla’s 
tribes, as well as others, strangers of pure heart 
mourning the lovers, renting their garments in 

And Majnun was buried at Layla’s side. 

Two lovers lie awaiting in this tomb 

Their resurrection from the grave’s dark womb. 

Faitlful in separation , true in love , 

One tent will hold them in the world above. 



Among the legendary love stories of the Islamic 
Orient that of Layla and Majnun is probably the best 
known. The two lovers live up to this day in poems, 
songs and epics of many tribes and nations from the 
Caucasus to the interior of Africa, from the Atlantic to 
the Indian Ocean. 

Are these legends based on truth ? Has this Bedouin 
youth Qays from the North-Arabic tribe of Amir, 
named Majnun (Madman), ever lived and suffered for 
his Layla ? We can not be certain, but there are good 
reasons to believe that he did, probably in the second 
half of the seventh century a.d., somewhere in the 
western half of the Arabic peninsula, about 500 years 
before a.d. 1188 (584 H), the year in which the 
Persian poet Nizami wrote his poem. Nizami was the 
first to make use of all the traditional versions, widely 
dispersed and greatly varied in detail, which he 
shaped into one great narrative poem. 

Thus the theme of Layla and Majnun acquired a new 
importance far beyond the narrow frame of local 
Arabic lyrics. Many later poets have imitated Nizami’s 
work, even if they could not equal and certainly not 
surpass it ; Persians, Turks, Indians, to name only the 
most important ones. The Persian scholar Hekmat has 
listed not less than forty Persian and thirteen Turkish 


versions and the Nizami editor Dastgerdi states that he 
has actually found more than xoo: ‘If one would 
search all existing libraries’, he says, ‘one would 
probably find more than iooo.’ Even modem love 
stories are often influenced by Nizami. 

The reason for this far-reaching influence is to be 
found in the fact that Nizami far surpasses all his 
predecessors and imitators. This is today generally 
accepted. The Egyptian scholar M. Gh. Hilal in his 
book on The Development of the Majnun— Layla Theme in 
the Literatures of the Orient (Cairo, 1954) concludes that 
it was Nizami who transformed the local legend into a 
work of art of general and timeless value ; the Persian 
A. A. Hekmat, who in 1941 published a prose version 
in Teheran, compares the work with Shakespeare’s 
Romeo and Juliet and Jan Rypka in his History of Iranian 
Literature — the latest and most important work in the 
field — says: ‘The result. . . shows the hand of a 
genius.’ The Russian orientalist, I. J. Kratshkovskij , 
the first to collect the early Arabian sources, points 
out that owing to Nizami’s work Majnun has become 
a leading figure in many other literatures. 

The scarcity of translations into European languages 
is partly due to the lack of a reliable Persian text which 
was for the first time constituted from about thirty 
manuscripts by Wahid Dastgerdi in his edition of 
Nizami's Collected Works (Teheran, 193^). The text 
is accompanied by an indispensable commentary. 
Since then ‘Layla and Majnun’ has been translated into 
Turkish (by A. N. Tarlan, Istanbul, 1943) and into 
Russian (by P. Antokolskij, Moscow, 1957)- Earlier 
part-translations, for instance the English version by 
J. Atkinson (London, 1836), published 100 years 
before Dastgerdi’s Persian edition, must now be 
considered as out of date. Even the quotations given in 

E. G. Browne’s standard work A Literary History of 
Persia, vol. II, 6th edition (Cambridge, 1956) in A. J. 
Arberry’s Classical Persian Literature (London, 1958) 
and in H. Masse’s Anthologie Persane (Paris, 19^0), are 
taken from parts which Dastgerdi has shown to be 
worthless additions by later editors. 

Nizami had not chosen his subject himself, he had 
been commissioned by a Transcaucasian chieftain, 
Shervanshah, and confesses in one of the prefaces that 
at first he was by no means enthusiastic about the idea. 
This is hardly surprising to anybody who knows the 
ascetic aridity of the early Arabic sources which he was 
supposed to follow. But Nizami, while preserving the 
main facts, made many important additions : the scene 
in the garden, Nawfal’s attack against Layla’s tribe, her 
refusal to consummate her marriage, Majnun’ s rule 
over the animals, the visit of his mother and his uncle, 
the mother’s death, the story of the youth from 
Baghdad, the death of Layla’s husband, as well as the 
fables and meditations, are either not to be found at 
all in the Arabic sources or only in rudimentary form. 
It must, of course, not be overlooked that these early 
sources were not concerned to produce a work of art. 
Their object was to collect the verses allegedly written 
by Majnun, adding textual and factual commentaries, 
and to publish them together with notes about the 
author, his name, his origin and his life. Nizami was 
the first to make the Bedouin poet the centre of a 
poetical rendering of his story; the factual details 
provided by the earlier editors are for him only the 
basis for his own work. The only worthwhile com- 
parison would be one between the Arabic poems 
preserved under Majnun’s name and those Persian 
verses which Nizami and the more important of his 
successors (Maktabi, Djami, Hatefi) have put into 



Majnun’s mouth, even though the Arabic poems have 
to stand on their own while the Persian ones are 
supported by the context of the whole epos. 

It is interesting to observe how Nizami preserves the 
Bedouin atmosphere, the nomads’ tents in the desert 
and the tribal customs of the inhabitants, while at the 
same time transposing the story into the far more 
civilized, Iranian world. The aridity and harshness of 
the surroundings are framed, as it were, by beautiful 
descriptions of the starred sky and the rising sun, or 
the deepest secrets of the human soul, in a language 
unbelievably rich with most precious images. In the 
Arabic sources the background is nearly empty. 
Nizami frees the story from the limitations of a merely 
accidental event by lifting it to an altogether higher 
spiritual level and enriches it by his love of colours, 
scents and sounds, by embellishing it playfully with 
jewels, flowers and fruits. In one of the prefaces he 
says that because of the magic power of his diction he 
was called ‘The mirror of the Invisible’ and kept ‘the 
treasures of two worlds in my sleeve’ — those of the 
visible and the invisible ones. Majnun’s father becomes 
‘a Sultan of the Arabs’ and is at the same time Tike 
Korah the Wealthy’, Layla walks in a rose-garden 
under cypress trees where nightingales sing in the 
bushes; Majnun talks to the planets in the symbolic 
language of a twelfth-century Persian sage, the en- 
counters of small Arabic raiding parties become 
gigantic battles of Royal Persian armies and most of the 
Bedouin talk like the heroes, courtiers and savants of 
the refined Iranian civilization. 

Far more important than the dramatic events of the 
story is the inner meaning of the work whose stage is 
Majnun’s soul. ‘What we mistake for a padlock to keep 
us out we may tomorrow find to be the key that lets 


us in’ and ‘every leaf in the book of fate has two pages ; 
one is written by man, the other by Fate.’ Whatever 
this poet touches becomes transparent and reveals its 
hidden meaning. 

To his Arabic biographers Majnun is suffering from 
an illness, a broken man, who has lost his way, to be 
reproached, pitied or derided. Nizami understands 
the three elements of the traditional Majnun, his love, 
his insanity and his poetical genius, as three aspects of 
one, indivisible unity. Only when he is driven out of 
the paradise of his early love does Majnun become 
both insane and a poet. Insanity and poetical genius are 
two expressions of the same state of mind, of a soul 
estranged in the world of men. And the same people 
who reproach, pity and deride Majnun because of his 
insanity, memorize and admire his poetry. Has the 
tragic ambiguity of the artist’s position in the world, 
the paradox of unbounded desire in a limited body, 
ever been described more aptly ? 

On the other hand it would be wrong to consider 
Majnun’s and Layla’s fate as ‘tragic’ in the western 
sense of the word. That there could be no fulfilment 
of their love on earth is a foregone conclusion for 
Nizami’s mysticism. His Layla states clearly, that in 
the religion of love close intimacy is perilous. This 
conception is similar to the spirit which in Europe 
moved the Troubadours — though only for a short 
time, while in Persia this age-old tradition has left its 
mark on all classic literature and even today is not 
dead but lives on like a spark under the ashes. 

If, therefore, our lovers’ sufferings are not ‘tragic’, 
they must also not be interpreted from a point of view 
of conventional morals. The Persian mystical poets 
have never been puritans! The lovers’ grief breaks 
through the limitations of human nature, enabling 

2 19 

them to become free of their ‘Self’ which is tied to 
the transitory world. Death is the gate to the ‘real’ 
world, to the home which our wandering soul 
desires and the poet reveals this truth in brilliant, 
ever-changing metaphors : the light-giving candle 

sheds bitter tears; the oyster suffers because of its 
pearl; the ruby longs to be freed from the rock in 
which it is hidden; the fading rose becomes a drop of 
precious rosewater; Majnun eats ‘the eater in him- 
self’, overcoming hunger, egoism and possessiveness, 
and crushing the ‘bazaar’ of sensual lust — to become 
the King of Love in Majesty. Not that everybody could 
reach this exalted state simply by falling in love: 
‘Inconstant love’, says Nizami, ‘remains but a toy of 
the senses and perishes like Youth.’ 

Layla, loving and beloved, is next to Nizami’s 
Shirin one of the most touching and delicate figures in 
Persian literature. No doubt she is meant to be a 
monument of the poet’s beloved wife Afaq (‘Horizons’) 
who died early. Her character is perhaps best des- 
cribed in Layla’s last words to her mother, one of the 
most moving episodes in our epos. 

This English version of Nizami’s work is, of course, 
not a literal translation, although it comes often very 
near to it. Apart from the different prefaces and the 
poet’s postscript which have been left out, it is based 
on those 3600 verses (out of more than 4000) which 
in the opinion of the Persian editor Dastgerdi can be 
accepted as genuine. His text (2nd edition, Teheran, 

1 333/ 1 9S4) is the only authoritative one. 

In some cases I had to take liberties. It is not 
always possible to follow exactly in a prose version 
Nizami’s very concise poetic language. It must also be 
remembered that the author wrote for a very small 
circle of highly educated readers at the courts and in 


the towns of Iran in the twelfth and thirteenth 
centuries. Today even well-read Persian readers find 
difficulties in understanding the work without using 
an extensive commentary such as the one provided by 

Some descriptions had to be shortened, as, for 
instance, that of the starlit sky under which Majnun 
prays, since this requires a specialized astrological and 
astronomical knowledge. Sometimes the complicated 
sense of a single verse had to be rendered in several 

I began working on my prose version in Persia in 
19^8. 1 am well aware of the fact that in spite of all my 
efforts it remains inferior to the original. At least I 
can say it is based on a careful study of every word of 
Nizami’s poem. 

R. Gelpke. 

editor’s NOTE : This is an abridged version of the original 
Postscript published in the German edition, Manesse 
Bibliothek der Weltliteratur, Manesse Verlag, Zurich 1 963 .